No Such Thing as Free Social Media

Facebook recently announced that Instagram was going to get ads. This really shouldn't be a surprise at all since Instagram has been free since it began in 2010.

A lot of people are going to be pissed about the new ad system, especially when a stock photo from ChristianMingle.com shows up in your Instagram feed, reminding you of your singleness.

Advertising in and of itself is not evil: most of my favorite bloggers and podcasters make a lot of their income from advertisers. However, injecting advertising into a "free" social networking service like this seems repulsive. Why is this?

I believe it's because most social networks bill themselves as "A great place to hang out with your friends."  Share photos, secrets, and intimate details about your life. It's a safe environment to really share with your loved ones in ways you normally can't.

It would be like a bar that let you hang out and get drinks with your buddies for free: it seems too good to be true.

So you go to this bar all the time and share your life with your friends. They keep pumping drinks into you until your defenses get lower and lower. All the while watching. Listening.

Except eventually the bar starts to sell a product that you mentioned you wanted months ago. It spirals downward until one day the bar has a sales rep and forces you to sit at the table and listen to their sales pitch. You want to leave, but all of your friends are there, and your really have made some good memories and connected with people there.

As icky as that sounds, that's what is happening to Twitter and Instagram right now. They operated for free for so long that now they are scrambling to monetize the service without charging users of the service. So they make YOU their product and sell it to advertisers.

It's one reason I use iCloud email as my primary instead of Gmail. Google wants to sell my email information to advertisers; Apple doesn't.

It's why App.net is awesome. It's a social network that you actually pay for. I use it. You should get it too, and protect what you share online. They have a free tier with limitations, but it really is worth the price.