Instagram, the popular social network based around sharing photos, died suddenly on Tuesday. The service was 6 years old.
The cause of death was trying to be everything to everyone, a condition it had suffered for months but had been managing quite well. Despite its status as both a top-rated app in Apple’s App Store and one of Facebook’s prized acquisitions, Instagram couldn’t find a path that remained true to its original mission, a fact that became evident when a new beta version of the app showed the service was experimenting with a way to share albums of photos, as opposed to a singular image.
Born in late 2010, Instagram was accused of being a ripoff of other photo-sharing apps, including Hipstamatic and PicPlz, though it soon bested them all. While it took a while for Instagram to establish its dominance, it did so on the strength of its simplicity and the filters it became synonymous with. After Facebook paid a then-unheard-of $1 billion for the service in 2012, Instagram went on to even greater success, passing 500 million users in 2016, making its death that much more painful.
Over the past year, Instagram had expanded its features considerably by introducing Likes for comments, live video and the blatant Snapchat copy, Stories. But through all those changes, it generally left its primary service — sharing photos with friends and followers — unaffected. Each new feature increased engagement with many of its users and opened up new potential for revenue. But for those who wished to only share and view photos, they could simply ignore the new tools.
Albums is poised to change that. The feature flies in the face of Instagram’s inherent curation, potentially allowing users to share up to 10 photos in a single post. Overlooking that there are literally hundreds of services that already do that — most notably its own parent, Facebook — Instagram had clearly lost touch with what its users actually want.
Instagram is… was about sharing a single, perfect pic that encapsulates the moment you’re experiencing. While some users have been known to share multiple photos of cruises, museum visits and trips to the dentist, those users were penalized with scorn, their posts rarely getting the necessary 11 Likes to obfuscate usernames (a feature that was discarded over the past year). Those who didn’t adjust to Instagram’s unwritten rules and continued to share de facto albums were unfollowed, ostracized from the true Instagram community.
Albums are destined to turn Instagram into a place where tedious photo sets from vacations, bar mitzvahs and holiday parties are interspersed with the images users actually want to see. The dilution is tragically inevitable, and, in the long term, not survivable. With albums, Instagram’s soul won’t be so much crushed as made fully indistinguishable from Facebook. The service will no longer stand for anything, and while it will continue to exist, and possibly even grow, its core will be rotten, its purpose unclear, its engagement hollow.
The beta nature of the feature might have provided Instagram’s users some hope that the popular service could be resuscitated, but it was false hope. The test laid bare a simple truth: That Instagram’s insatiable desire for engagement and user-generated content had grown so out of control that it forgot what made its service popular in the first place.
Instagram is survived by its offspring, Hyperlapse, Layout and Boomerang. It will be buried in the GetJar app store in a small ceremony attended by its adoptive parent, Facebook, as well as siblings WhatsApp and Messenger. Instead of flowers, the family encourages donations to Snapchat’s IPO. Selfies will not be allowed.