Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Instagram Ethos


There's nothing like an interview with the boss of a company to help reveal the thought processes behind a business. I'd imagine that if you asked the average Instagram user to name the boss of the very service they were using, many wouldn't be able to. I didn't! The Instagram CEO is actually called Kevin Systrom.

In an interview for the business magazine Fast Company, Systrom reveals quite a lot about how he feels about photographs and the people who take them. It doesn't make comfortable reading. Systrom mentions using Instagram to find beautiful things which for him means 'rare top-shelf bourbons, aviator sunglasses, and celebrity selfies'. Who says the man has no soul? I just wonder if they actually value high quality content from professional photographers?  They appear to want to encourage users like the rich Russian teenagers who seem to infest the service and love to flaunt mum and dad's wealth via their iPhone photos.

To be fair, Systrom does briefly mention the app's 'untapped gold mine' ability to discover new content creators only for the journalist Austin Car to make the barbed retort in his article ' The first example he cites is a curious and slightly naive one: a behind-the-curtain peek at life inside North Korea'. Oops. Obviously the journalist hadn't heard about or seen any of David Guttenfelder's excellent work from North Korea. As far as the rich vein of photojournalism on Instagram was concerned though, that was about as near as it got.

A telling and also rather worrying paragraph refers to the terms of service issue of December 2012 which angered users and led to many closing accounts. Described in terms like 'a minor media freak-out' and 'the changes were revoked and the fire-storm quickly passed' by Austin Carr, the difficulties of late 2012 were swept under the carpet and under-estimated the damage inflicted on Instagram. Maybe they don't care. The issue has certainly not vanished, with many users, myself included, keeping a watchful eye for further attempts at abusing the terms. Some have even gone as far as building their own alternative app.

Trust is a very fragile thing and photographers always like to keep their options open. Instagram isn't the only photo sharing service. There are alternatives such as Flickr, EyeEm app and the impressive looking Pressgram app due in August, that enable photographers to keep control and rest easier. But then if the interview with Kevin Systrom is to be believed, Instagram isn't really about photography or even aimed at photographers. It's about lifestyle, brands and celebrities. No wonder the rich Russian kids love it!

The Fast Company Article about Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom can be read HERE

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