I have to say - I have a bad feeling like this. Today, Facebook announced they are going to buy Instagram, my favourite app, for a sum total of $1,000,000,000 dollars (note my use of the American billion there), in a combination of cash and stock in Facebook itself.
Personally, this makes me worried. Why? Because I dislike Facebook and their lack of transparent privacy policies, and frankly how much they already know about me. I'll go into this deeper if you want (well, actually I don't care what you want, I'll tell you anyway).
Mainly my problem is my friends. I have around 250, and I only trust about 10 of them who know what they're doing in terms of Privacy. The sheer volume of data that Facebook has almost certainly built up about me over the course of around two years must be immense. Facebook even knows my email addresses that I haven't personally shared with them, because one of my friends who has that new email in their address book let Facebook trawl through it in the vague hope that that user would find more of their friends to add on Facebook.
And one more thing unnerves me: the volume of crap apps on Facebook. I have no idea what those apps are doing with my data. Most of the small personally developed ones almost certainly do not follow the API terms and conditions involving Privacy. For instance, you may recall that famous app from a few days ago named "Girls Around Me"? And how it was only banned as an app on Facebook 3 days after it was featured on the front page of major tech websites, such as Cult of Mac, Gizmodo and Mashable? Interesting. Now think of how many apps haven't been noticed yet.
And then there's the option for apps to "access the details of your friends, even when you're not online", or something similar. More people I don't know gaining access to my private information. Again, this comes round to trusting my friends. And I can tell you now that I only trust 1/25 of them.
And so now I've explained why I don't like Facebook, I will explain why I'm anxious.
Remember Spotify? That cool music app that you used to know and love? Well. Then it was bought by Facebook. And then Facebook introduced a sign in with Facebook option. And the Facebook forced you to sign in with Facebook.
And now you can't get Spotify without Facebook. No Facebook account? No Spotify account. This in some ways is receding into what I remember happened when I started using the web, around 8-ish years ago (I'm only 14, remember). There would be this cool free thing, but to get it you'd have to sign up for a whole lot of other stuff that you almost certainly didn't want. And that was in 2004. And now we're in 2012. And look how far the web has come.
Also, did I mention that when sending music to someone in Spotify, you have three options. Firstly, send through Spotify (seems normal); secondly, send though Facebook (wouldn't do it, but yeah fine); and finally send through WinLive Messenger or some crap like that. But this is not what you think. Sending through Windows Live functions exactly as you'd expect it to. But that's where the morals stop. Both sending through Facebook and sending through Spotify opens a Facebook message to the person in question, with the song attached. Not good. (This phenomenon was first noted by Michael Henley, as far as I can recall).
And so I'm worried the same thing will happen to Instagram. First, Facebook will creep in with the slightly-more-than-just-integration, and then they'll just go full out with the sign in with Facebook only.
I don't like the level of Integration with Facebook already - in that when "sharing" to Facebook from Instagram you don't "share", you just upload another copy to Facebook, and under their own terms and conditions, they now own that photo. Does that mean in the future, Facebook will own every single photo ever taken with Instagram? I hope not.
But what could Facebook do to not screw things up? Well, there's quite a lot, actually.
Firstly, and foremostly, don't require Facebook logins. Do what Amazon did when they bought IMDB in 1999 or what they did when they bought Audible - add them as part of your company, but keep them separate entities. Amazon gives you the option to keep your IMDB and Amazon accounts completely separate, totally unlinked.
Chances are that most Facebook users will link their accounts with Instagram, but please don't make it compulsory. Because there will be a few, like me, who really don't want Facebook knowing any more about them.
Another thing they could do is keep the teams completely separate and different. Hell, put them in different cities! Just don't overly influence an app that is already pretty much perfect. Why? Because Instagram focused on one thing and one thing only - awesome photo-taking and photo-sharing capabilities. If they try to do more, they'll certainly, without doubt, make the app, and ecosystem, worse.
And another thing: don't allow desktop uploads. Instagram was always meant to be mobile, and just imagine the amount of crap that would be taken with laptop webcams for "artsy" profile pictures. There is a reason there's no API method for uploading photos that might have been taken anywhere, on anything.
But maybe I'm being too harsh. After all, being bought by Facebook my be the best thing that's ever happened to Instagram. A thirteen person team's fun, but do you really think an Android app would have taken this long if Facebook had already bought them? And what about that iPad app? Granted, you may look ridiculous holding a massive iPad up in front of your face to take a photo, but surely Instagram should provide a platform for people to make idiots out of themselves if they want to? With Facebook, this may be coming a lot sooner than previously thought (although, giving Facebook reputation with iPad apps I may be wrong...)
And so I hope that Instagram can be to Facebook what YouTube was to Google - integrated, yet separate, and thriving in being part of a giant multi-national company who could support it both technically and financially.
So, I am overall not too optimistic about the future of Instagram after today. Prove me wrong, Facebook.