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With founders out, Instagram is poised to turn into Facebook 2.0

Published Sep 25th, 2018 2:39PM EDT
Instagram founders step down
Image: Simon Belcher/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock

If you’re a fan of Instagram, and many hundreds of millions of you are, there are plenty of reasons to be worried about a pair of resignations that came out of nowhere Monday night, sent tech Twitter into a tizzy and signaled the arrival of a significant new chapter for the biggest social networking company on the planet.

We’re talking, of course, about the surprise departures of Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who gave a short statement about the news that’s arguably more notable for what it doesn’t say than what it does.

Even before we got to this point, Instagram was already becoming a vastly more crucial piece of the Facebook portfolio of companies and services. People were spending more time there. People still loved it, to a degree that they haven’t loved Facebook for years now, if they ever did. It’s become a significant driver of small business traffic. And when you consider Stories, GIFs, stickers and tons more recently added features, it’s clear that Instagram is still, well, fun.

And yet.

As all of those things we just mentioned were coming to fruition, there’s been a trade-off along the way. And that tradeoff involves the simplicity of the app’s experience, which is slowly being engineered away. This long ago stopped being an app that saw you fire it up, take a photo, slap on a filter, share some comments and likes and then were done with it. Which brings us to last night’s news.

It’s hard not to worry that the sudden departures of Kevin and Mike means the app is going to slowly become a new version of the overstuffed, clunky, hamburger menu-laden Facebook app you’re probably barely using now, if that.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal that was conducted before Monday’s announcement, Kevin makes clear he has no regrets about having sold Instagram to Facebook back in 2012. A close parsing of his and Mike’s statement about their resignation, however, suggests a more …. textured reality.

Here it is, in case you haven’t seen it yet:

“Mike and I are grateful for the last eight years at Instagram and six years with the Facebook team. We’ve grown from 13 people to over a thousand with offices around the world, all while building products used and loved by a community of over one billion. We’re now ready for our next chapter.

We’re planning on taking some time off to explore our curiosity and creativity again. Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that’s what we plan to do.

We remain excited for the future of Instagram and Facebook in the coming years as we transition from leaders to two users in a billion. We look forward to watching what these innovative and extraordinary companies do next.”

None of the usual fluffy tip of the hat to the people you’re leaving — in this case, no mention of Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg. Leaving something like that out of a farewell note like this, Business Insider notes, is the equivalent of not returning someone’s handshake.

If you read some of the other tea leaves, it suggests at a minimum discontent behind the scenes. Kevin had a few big speaking engagements lined up, suggesting this was sudden. The note refers to exploring the pair’s creativity “again,” suggesting that wasn’t happening at Facebook, where one imagines the focus is on user engagement and monetization opportunities.

Adam Mosseri, who had been in charge of your favorite feature of Facebook (News Feed!), recently became Instagram’s head of product.

All of this said, hopefully Kevin and Mike’s departure doesn’t foreshadow an increasing Facebookification of Instagram. But as we said right at the outset – there are reasons aplenty to worry.

Andy Meek profile photo
Andy Meek Trending News Reporter

Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.