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January 9, 2013

Why You’ll Still Be On Instagram Jan. 20

Instagram users had their feathers ruffled last month when Instagram publicized its new Terms of Service.

The sentence that caused the big stir was this” “You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.” Everyone read that to mean that Instagram, freshly purchased by Mark Zuckerberg (via Facebook) after a deal completed three months ago, owned their photos and could sell them to the highest bidder. Even I raised an eyebrow, and I usually remain calm during these little storms. But I wasn’t ready to join fist shakers in a hissy fit quite yet.

Facebook has had practically the same Terms of Service for quite some time. They’ve also “forced” many changes (e.g. Timeline) onto users inciting uproars here and there but ultimately to no avail. It all had zero impact on Facebook reaching one billion users. I’ve even heard my own friends, family, and co-workers declare year in and out that they were going to delete their Facebook accounts and yet they are still posting what they had for breakfast (complete with pictures) on a daily basis.

Something was bound to happen with Instagram since the Facebook purchase and, recently, the interface was changed (an improvement in my books) and cut its support for Twitter cards (not so much an improvement), added two new filters (cool) and then the policy change came along to seal the deal. This was the problem: too much too fast with the most recent being, a real kicker and causing quite the ruckus.

I remember when everyone freaked out about the plug-ins that connected new mobile device apps to your social media profiles and, in order to do so, you had to provide the following permission; “Allow XYZ app to post on your behalf.” It was nothing but legal banter to protect the developers. It did not mean that XYZ app would randomly post something embarrassing on your public social media profile. Over time people realized the permission was no real threat to their privacy and now click “accept” without a thought. The Instagram policy wording from last month was of the same vein. It sounded harsh, but in the grand scheme of social networking it was status quo. In fact, if everyone actual read the entire 10-page long Terms of Service of anything they would never actually accept anything without a lawyer present.

However, the very same fist shaking that I deemed a severe over reaction ended up shaking up Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom and, on the afternoon of Dec. 19, he posted a blog explaining that the new Instagram terms were misinterpreted. This satiated some but others saw it as nothing more than pandering. Then Dec. 21, when I went on Instagram to post a picture of my Venti Starbuck’s Peppermint Mocha using the edgy new Mayfair filter I noticed at the top of the interface the words “Updated Terms of Service Based on Your Feedback.” I tapped through to read the highlighted: “Because of the feedback we have heard from you, we are reverting this advertising section to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010.”

On Jan. 19, 2013 the revised (edited to soften the blow from Dec. 18) terms will be posted. Until then you can read the complete blog post from Kevin Systrom. A victory for social networkers everywhere? Perhaps. However, if any of you end up even reading the complete original Terms of Service there are probably some red flags there that would scare you nonetheless.

The victory I see in all of this is that it does show CEOs and figureheads of these social networks that we have made an integral part of our day-to-day lives that communication is key. If Kevin Systrom and company had simply kept Instagram users in the loop (via blog post) with every relevant up and coming change and explained each one better; there would not be the same whiplash of negative feedback. On the flip side of the coin, we have to remember to cut them some slack. When we log into a social network we are using a very sophisticated service that has revolutionized the way we connect to the world around us. There is a team of specialists behind every post we make. To reluctantly quote Mark Zuckerberg in the Social Network: “My colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.” He’s right. And they’re not doing it for free. There is only one way for the social networking universe to continue functioning and to improve service to us, and that’s through some form of advertising revenue.

Now in 2013, it’s clear that our dependence on social networking has grown exponentially. Whether you are a small business owner with no marketing budget, an environmental activist without a soapbox to stand on, or an amateur photographer with a penchant for Peppermint Mochas, social networks give us a voice that we have never known before. On this occasion, Kevin Systrom heard that voice and, although it likely had no real impact on anything you do on Instagram, it opened the lines of communication and THAT is exactly what social networking is all about.

Marcus Maraih is the content developer and social media manager at