Changes are afoot at Instagram.
Late yesterday, The New York Times reported that Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger had both resigned from the company, and planned to leave parent-company Facebook within the coming weeks.
Shortly after, Systrom confirmed the report via the Instagram Press blog, saying that:
"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."
Krieger and Systrom created Instagram in 2010 with the app's initial focus being on photography and image composition. Since then, as noted by Systrom, the app's gone on to become one of the biggest social platforms in the world, boasting a billion users, and expanding its focus beyond basic sharing.
But that expansion, largely under Facebook following The Social Network's acquisition of the app in 2012, has also, reportedly, been a source of unease.
Earlier this year, Bloomberg noted that there were significant tensions between Instagram's founders and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the best way forward for the app. In that piece, Bloomberg's Sarah Frier notes, specifically, that Instagram's founders were not keen on duplicating Snapchat's popular Stories feature, which has gone on to become a big success within Instagram.
According to Bloomberg:
"Krieger and Systrom refused to build look-alike functionality until Zuckerberg personally requested it, according to a person familiar with discussions."
Now, that tension is also believed to be behind the departure of Instagram's founders. According to various sources, disagreement between Instagram's management and the incoming influence of Facebook's team (most notably Facebook's Adam Mosseri and Chris Cox who took on additional oversight within Instagram back in May) lead to a critical point, which pushed the original Instagrammers out.
So what does that mean for the app?
At this point, there's no way of knowing the impact, but thus far Instagram has been able to maintain a level of separation and variation from its parent company, which has enabled Instagram to grow while holding tight to its core ideals. But there have already been compromises - the addition of Instagram Stories, as noted, which has worked out, while we've also seen a bigger push on eCommerce tools and moves to monetize Instagram of late.
Will we see more ads on Instagram as Facebook seeks to build on it's potential in order to counter a potential slowing in Facebook growth? Will we see more reliance on algorithms to highlight relevant content, and potentially reduce the reach of brand pages, as Facebook's notorious News Feed has done?
I suspect the latter will be on the cards, but again, its hard to know how much Instagram has resisted such changes, and how many have been implemented anyway, despite the protests of Systrom and Krieger. Maybe, their presence meant there was debate around such change, but Facebook made the changes anyway, which is why the duo are leaving. Or maybe, the pair have been able to successfully fend off some of Facebook's more aggressive pushes, and those could now come to light.
Whatever happens, the departure of two more founders from Facebook-acquired companies doesn't make The Social Network look great from the perspective of such integrations. Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp, left Facebook in May after reportedly clashing with Zuck and Co. over data privacy, while Oculus founder Palmer Luckey left Facebook last year in more questionable circumstances.
From the outside, it now seems as though Facebook is taking a more 'my way or the highway' approach than it may have previously appeared, which could make perfect sense from a business growth perspective. But then again, Facebook's main app is now facing problems on that front. Will taking the same route with each of its other apps lead to more users seeking alternatives?
It would seemingly take a big shift for Instagram to lose momentum, and as noted, we can't know what the influence of Krieger and Systrom really was inside Facebook HQ. But it'll be interesting to see what Instagram does next - maybe not straight away, but maybe in a few months time. Maybe a new algorithm update gets quietly rolled out. Maybe there's a new eCommerce push, seeking to get more products in-stream.
We'll have to keep an eye on what comes next, but maybe, possibly, in 18 months time, Instagram could look a lot different to what it does right now.