Five times Facebook messed with InstagramSeptember 25, 2018
Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger abruptly announced their departure last night after a New York Times report cited tensions between the duo and Instagram’s parent company Facebook as the reason for their exit. Bloomberg has since corroborated those rising disagreements between Systrom, Krieger, and Mark Zuckerberg as the key factor that drove them away. And today Recode published its own report that includes specific decisions that created animosity between the two teams and damaged morale at Instagram.
The photo-sharing platform’s promised autonomy seems to be wearing down. When you consider the enormous piece of Facebook’s bottom line that Instagram represents, perhaps this was inevitable. But Systrom and Krieger successfully worked beneath their parent company for six years — to the benefit of both sides — before suddenly deciding the time had come to walk away.
Here are just a few recent changes that might have pushed them to making that decision.
Facebook encouraged cross-posting of Instagram stories to Facebook
Unlike Instagram, which masterfully copied and eventually surpassed Snapchat’s signature stories concept, Facebook’s in-house attempt at doing the same has spectacularly crashed and burned. It’s a ghost town.
Only when Instagram added a setting to automatically cross-post stories over to Facebook at the same time they were uploaded to Instagram did the feature start to see some pickup — but it’s still nowhere near as popular or well-liked as Instagram’s take.
Instagram made a pointless hamburger menu with a prominent Facebook link
In 2015, Mike Krieger was interviewed by Laurie Segall at Web Summit. During the discussion, he was clearly happy about Instagram’s ability to stay focused and avoid overloading users with a ton of features and useless cruft. “I’m always proud that we don’t have a hamburger menu,” he said. You’re probably familiar with the hamburger menu even if you’re not aware of its name; it’s that icon with three horizontal lines that can be found in countless apps. Some consider it a crutch for developers who can’t find a good place to put (insert random feature or setting). Krieger seemed to share that viewpoint.
But in 2018, Instagram now has a hamburger menu. It doesn’t contain much; there are just three options taking up the whole thing. One is a “Saved” section for posts you’ve bookmarked for easy reference later. (That feature used to be visible from the profile tab, where it was easier to get to.) Instagram has also moved its recommendations for accounts to follow to the hamburger menu.
And then there’s option three: “Open Facebook.” I guess there was nowhere else to put that where it wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. If the blatant Facebook promotion wasn’t bad enough, this also will show a badge to alert you of Facebook notifications.
Facebook notifications infiltrated Instagram in a “small test”
In June, some users noticed that they were receiving Instagram notifications about photo uploads from their friends. Seems normal enough, right? Problem is, these were notifications about photos being uploaded to Facebook — on Instagram. That crossing of streams didn’t sit well with users.
Instagram eventually dismissed this as a test that only a small amount of users were part of. Even if not many people saw the notifications, it’s likely that some Instagram employees find this kind of thing — and other blatant moves to steer users toward Facebook — pretty demoralizing.
Facebook no longer attributes photos posted from Instagram and has cut back on promoting the app
Despite Instagram’s attempts to promote its parent company at every turn, Facebook has been doing the opposite. According to Recode, Zuckerberg at some point ordered the Facebook team to reduce Instagram promotion and exposure.
And one of those changes is easy to spot: photos cross-posted to someone’s Facebook feed from Instagram no longer include any label or attribution that mentions where they came from. They now look just like any other image uploaded directly to Facebook. with no mention of Instagram at all.
Facebook stripping out this courtesy, which had been in place for years, reportedly frustrated Systrom to the point where he publicly disagreed with the move on Instagram’s internal Facebook portal. Facebook has also removed Instagram shortcuts that it has at times tested in the mobile app’s sidebar. It’s very easy to get to Facebook from Instagram, but not vice versa.
Facebook put its own executives into key roles at Instagram
Two years ago, Bloomberg’s Emily Chang asked Systrom whether Zuckerberg was honoring his commitment to stay hands-off and let Instagram maintain its independence. “Mark has been true to his word and then some. Still to this day, Mark’s interaction with the company basically is through meetings with me,” he said.
That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.
Within the last year, Zuckerberg and Facebook have secured a much tighter grip of Instagram by installing veteran executives from the parent company into key positions within the latter. Adam Mosseri, formerly Facebook’s VP of product management for News Feed, is now head of product at Instagram. He took on that role after a major reorganization in May, has a close working relationship with Zuckerberg, and is said to be in the Facebook chief’s inner circle. With Systrom and Krieger headed out, it’s likely he’ll become Instagram’s new top boss.
Anna Richardson White, who previously served high up on Facebook’s communications team, is currently director of Instagram brand communications. Both are well-liked and highly regarded at the company, but the decision-makers are changing — and they’re more closely aligned with Mark Zuckerberg’s thinking.
Now, Facebook isn’t to blame for everything that people might dislike about Instagram. Systrom has routinely gushed that Facebook’s advertising know-how and backend operations played a critical role in helping Instagram achieve its tremendous growth. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t saddle us with the awful, non-chronological feed or those obnoxious IGTV notifications.
But even Instagram’s bad decisions have felt like Instagram decisions. The above examples don’t. As Facebook’s own growth slows, it seems to be ramping up involvement with Instagram to such an extreme that it turned off Systrom and Krieger — and eventually drove them out the door to find their “curiosity and creativity again.”