information it can monetise, so any great pool of information is attractive. The danger is in maintaining a delicate balance of coming up with a sustainable business plan without alienating the hordes whose allegiance is the only reason you are valuable. Asking members to pay something, with “premium” services, would be a bold initiative. Allowing members to retain meaningful control over how their images are used, which Creative Commons licensing affords, would give Instagram much of what it wants without alienating its suppliers — er, members. Facebook is heavy-handed because it can afford to be. But unlike Facebookers, Instagramers aren’t without recourse. Instagramers benefit from data portability — they can take their pictures and go home.
They also have other places to go, including Yahoo’s Flickr photo-sharing service, which was moribund for years but had the prescience to release a major upgrade to its previously lackluster iPhone app one week ago. It is now the functional equivalent of Instagram and is superior to it in many ways: You can chose levels of sharing (with Instagram, your pictures are either public or private), has offered Creative Commons licensing for years and even lets you sell your work in a partnership with Getty, the massive photo archive. With respect and incentives, Instagramers might be just fine if the app experimented with ways to make money off members in an effort to keep the service free.
It would be premature to suggest that Instagram is in any real danger. But “free” services are running out of room to operate as people realize that nothing is free. No single reminder of the true cost in privacy and control may move the needle, but an accumulation of insults often leads to an “enough is enough” moment from which there is no turning back. It’s the difference between being a user and being used.
For the time being, Instagram’s fate is in its hands. It’s not a pretty picture, but with the right filter, Instagram can still manage to make the image look better than it actually is.