Kodak/Instagram comparison: This isn’t about taking pictures

My social media channels were all filled with comments yesterday about Facebook’s $1 billion deal to purchase Instagram that ran a little something like this:

“Kodak is bankrupt and Instagram is worth $1 billion. Welcome to the digital age!”

It’s true that this is the kind of moment that serves as a stark example of just how dramatically our media world has shifted. It makes a nice, pithy little Tweet, but I wanted to dig a little into what lessons I think the $1 billion Instagram story provides.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

This is not about taking photographs, on any platform. It is about providing a place where people can be creative, and then giving them the tools to share and build on that creativity.

Facebook isn’t interested in Instagram because it lets people take pictures. It isn’t even interested in it because it allows people to apply filters to their photos that make them look all artsy. As someone who has used a whole passel of photo apps on my iPhone, I know that there are lots of tools you can use to do that.

The appeal of Instagram, and the reason so many users love it, is that it provides a way to share your creativity. It isn’t about technology or platform, except in so far as that technology and that platform enable sharing.

The lesson here is a clear one for traditional journalism organizations, which have spent the last 15 years fighting and clawing to maintain a proprietary media model that is the antithesis of sharing. It’s a lesson for foundations, for schools and colleges, for government, too. The value of the digital age isn’t that you can publish all you want. It’s that you can share ideas broadly, and in that process you can build upon those. You can improve them. 

We need to stop talking about “web-first” like it’s some brand new thought and focus on  mobile.

It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Instagram is a phone app, and until very recently, exclusively an iPhone app. It’s DNA is completely mobile, and a huge piece of the value Facebook is looking to unlock it based squarely in that sweet spot.

In so much of our work at Coats2Coats, our clients continue to talk about their content in terms of their websites — you know, those things you look at on your desktop computer or your laptop. Every time, I feel a cold chill go down my back. It’s not that traditional websites aren’t important, it is that they are established platforms. They are, in terms of the digital age, old media. I get that same feeling of impending doom when the conversation is website-centric that I used to get when the conversation was print-centric.

When Rusty and I started Coats2Coats, we thought long and hard at the backyard tiki bar about what kind of help we could give our clients. We settled on this: We want to help our clients achieve a future that is participatory, profitable and mobile. The Instagram story illuminates all three of those principles. For Facebook, this is about enhancing their competency in sharing and building strength in mobile. And for the guys at Instagram, it most certainly is a story about profit. Lots and lots of it.