Dear Mr. Zuckerberg, on that Instagram thing…
I know when a company has a lot of free cash lying around, or when it’s facing market pressure, the executives of the company start to look outside for companies to acquire that compliment what they do or add to an area they are missing or weak in. Down those lines, I’m sure you thought that Instagram was just the ticket. After all, here is a “cool” app that many people are using to share photos from their mobile devices and this activity certainly fits into core feature set that Facebook would like to offer to users. Also, I just heard a fantastic interview with David Armano where he said “own the data, own the future” – a thought that, although I might agree, sounds a little too much like the old justification of some secret police saying “Those who hold the files…”. So privacy is on everyone’s lips these days.
Now I’m a little surprised Mark, if I may be familiar, that you didn’t mine your data first to see what your customers or potential customers thought about their “cool” app being taken over by Facebook, a company that is already on people’s short list of “companies I’m suspicious of with my privacy” and, well I hate to say it, but hanging on the cusp of “uncool”. Right after your announcement I went into our system and did a comprehensive search for what people were saying, and I found three general reactions:
- Now Instagram isn’t cool anymore!
- How is Facebook going to use this to violate my privacy? I’m going to think twice about using it!
- Meh (BTW, indifference is actually worse than a strong reaction)
Of course reading the commentary was even more illuminating. It’s especially illuminating because people don’t always say the same thing in every place they post. It’s hard to detail and illuminate your thoughts in a Tweet or a Facebook character-limited status update. It’s much easier to blog or write a long comment somewhere that’s more trenchant. Now, I certainly hope you’ve built the ability on your backend, Mark, that lets you index, analyze, and make searchable all your posts for themes, keywords, subjects, proper names, phrases and the like, and that you search them regularly for insights. There’s just one problem with this: you never know what people are talking about…even these same people…behind your back, outside of your walled garden.
But we do.
So Mark, in the future you might want to talk to us. After all, we know what your users are publically saying everywhere they say it on the web. We can tell you what percentage of time people write about topics, where they write, how positive or negative they are when they write about it, and what the weight of their social capital is – in other words ,their “potential energy” when it comes to influencing opinion. And there is no walled garden here, so you’ll know when someone is saying to you “oh thank you so much! Your party was fantastic!” and then is writing somewhere else what a crashing bore you are. Because people do that, and it depends on where you look if you want the truth. And we don’t violate people’s privacy in the process.
And if you haven’t built this engine on your back end? Call me. I think we can be had for less than 1 billion. It would be the best investment you’d ever make. Our customers think so.