How Instagram may change after founders' departure

MANILA, Philippines – Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the founders of Instagram, have left the company, 8 years after starting it and 6 since being acquired by Facebook for $715 million.

The departure is being reported as sudden, and beyond the walls of Facebook, unexpected – especially at a time when Instagram has become the jewel in Facebook’s crown, promising the most growth, and largely protected from Facebook’s controversies.  

Systrom and Krieger, even post-acquisition, remained at the helm, exercising significant control – but apparently now, not enough that the two would have chosen to stay. As Instagram ballooned to a billion users in June 2018 from 50 million in its first few years, Facebook, according to reports, had shown a proclivity towards more control, eventually squeezing out the founders. 

The founders wanted to keep Instagram insular. Facebook wanted deeper integration between it and its main platform – more cross-sharing, more Facebook branding on Instagram, and an activity flow that led Instagram users eventually landing in Facebook. With the two out, that’s likely what Facebook will get. Here’s a rundown:

Less Instagram presence on Facebook 

Prior to the departure, Facebook already made the decision to remove Instagram branding on Facebook reshares, according to Recode. This was among the many slights that the founders had experienced, eventually leading to their stepping down. 

Before the decision, Instagram albums had been moved away from the main profile page and into the albums section. Formerly, it had been featured more prominently on the profile page. There’s still an option to put an Instagram link on the profile page, however, although it involves a few extra steps.  

More Facebook-centric experience 

Instagram has become a hedge against young people departing Facebook. But Facebook may want to turn that around by redesigning Instagram in a way that the user eventually lands back in Facebook. 

Facebook has been heavily dominated by news, with the softer, lifestyle content finding its place on Instagram. There is certainly some incentive to be had for Facebook to balance the news and the “fun” content on their platform, maybe to draw in the younger crowd again. 

Facebook already has its own take on the ephemeral Instagram Stories, which itself was derived from Snapchat, which had been very popular with the youth. 

A recent major org flow change also hints at Facebook’s desire to turn Instagram into more of a support unit for its main platform.  

Before the departure, a Facebook reorganization placed Systrom directly under Facebook’s VP of product, Chris Cox, according to Wall Street Journal. Formerly, Systrom reported to the chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer. Under Cox, there’d be theoretically more direct influence to shape Instagram according to Facebook’s needs, as opposed to the more technology-oriented relationship in the former setup. 

Another significant organizational movement, among a few others, is former VP of Facebook News Feed Adam Mosseri's move to Instagram to be its VP of product in May. TechCrunch describes Mosseri as a "member of Zuckerberg's inner circle," implying that this was a move meant to give the mother company more control and platform-shaping power. 

Future of IGTV in limbo? 

IGTV is a pet project of Systrom’s, according to The Verge. It was launched recently, but not before facing resistance from Facebook, which thought it might compete with Facebook’s own long-form platform, Facebook Watch. Its future is now in question with Systrom out, along with other Instagram projects including a standalone shopping app and the messaging platform Instagram Direct.  

Swifter changes, experimental interfaces may arrive sooner rather than later

Systrom and Krieger, said The Verge, were “careful to the point of being obstinate.” Instagram was their baby, and they didn’t usually change features or add new ones rapidly. They “remained deeply cautious” even as they launched new features. Under new management, with a seemingly clearer directive for making Instagram Facebook-centric, and without resistance from the original founders, there is certainly change coming to the platform. 

Facebook notifications in Instagram 

TechCrunch reported that this year that some Instagram users started getting both Facebook alerts inside their Instagram notifications tab, and seeing a Facebook button with red notification counts inside Instagram’s settings menu.” 

Again, evidence of Facebook diverting Instagram traffic to its main Facebook platform. There’s nothing wrong with that, inherently. Facebook owns Instagram and it can decide how its properties interact with one another. But these incursions, for the original founders, were too much. They want autonomy, but they can no longer have that in Facebook. 

Facebook wants traffic going from Instagram to the main platform but not the other way around. Earlier this year, it also removed an Instagram shortcut to the bookmarks menu in Facebook, meaning there’s no quick way now to go from Facebook to Instagram. Traffic is kept inside Facebook. 

The Wall Street Journal suggests that one incentive for Facebook doing so is that ads on Facebook’s feed still fetch a higher price than those on Instagram.


Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.