No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram
April 20, 2020
Social media has become even more important during the Coronavirus crisis as a means of keeping in touch and connected—a lifeline to the outside world. But it is also a source of rumor, questionable information from unverified sources, and outright scams related to the pandemic. Sarah Frier shows how this came to be, and how Instagram’s dominance acts as a lens into our society, highlighting our fraught relationship with technology.
“Instagram was one of the first apps to fully exploit our relationship with our phones, compelling us to experience life through a camera for the reward of digital validation,” writes award-winning Bloomberg News tech reporter Sarah Frier in No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram. “The story of Instagram is an overwhelming lesson in how the decisions inside a social media company—about what users listen to, which products to build, and how to measure success—can dramatically impact the way we live, and who is rewarded in our economy.”
Frier gained unprecedented, exclusive access to Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the cofounders of Instagram. She also spent more than 200 hours interviewing current and former employees at Instagram and its owner, Facebook, as well as investors and sources at competitors Twitter and Snapchat, to show how this one app has altered the way we shop, eat, travel, and communicate. No Filter also features cameo appearances by people whose lives were changed by Instagram, including influencers—from fashionistas with millions of followers to owners of famous dogs worldwide—and interviews with celebrity influencers Kris Jenner, Ashton Kutcher, Erin Foster, Anna Wintour, and more. In addition, Frier provides exclusive behind-the-scenes details about Instagram's dealings with celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Kylie Jenner, and Miley Cyrus.
Since its creation in 2010, Instagram’s fun and simple interface has captured our collective imagination, swiftly becoming a way of life. Frier explains how Instagram’s founders married art and technology to overcome skeptics and to hook the public on visual storytelling. At first, Instagram initially attracted artisans, but then the platform exploded in popularity among the masses, creating an entire industry of digital influencers.
Eighteen months after Instagram’s launch and explosive growth, Systrom and Krieger made the gut-wrenching decision to sell the company to Facebook for an unprecedented $1 billion. Soon after they reached one billion users on the app. For most companies, that would be the end of the story. But the cofounders stayed on, trying to maintain Instagram’s beauty, brand, and cachet, considering their app a separate company within the social networking giant. They reluctantly accepted some of Facebook’s demands for change, but rejected others.
Eventually their success exacerbated tensions with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who came to see Instagram as a threat to Facebook’s continued existence and growth—just as Facebook became embroiled in a string of public crises. Frier unearths the details that led to the cofounders’ departure in 2018, bringing to light dramatic moments unknown to the public until now.
No Filter also examines Instagram’s considerable impact on our culture. “Instagram would grow beyond its initial roots as a creative space for photographers and artisans,” Frier writes. “It would metamorphize into a tool for crafting and capitalizing on a public image, not just for famous figures but for everybody. Every Instagram account would have the chance to be not just a window into someone’s lived experience—as the founders initially intended—but also their individual media operation. The shift would birth an economy of influence, with all of the interconnected Instagram activity at its nexus, in territory uncharted by Facebook or Twitter.”
Instagram has become a celebrity-making machine that is without precedent. More than 200 million users have more than 50,000 followers and are able to make a living by posting on behalf of brands. Less than a tenth of one percent of the app’s users have more than a million followers—but because of Instagram’s massive scale, that equates to more than 6 million Insta-celebrities, most of whom rose to fame via the app itself. In essence they are running personal media companies through tastemaking, storytelling, and entertaining, and marketing through these influencers is now a multi-billion-dollar industry.
“All of this activity has trickled down into our society, affecting us whether we use Instagram or not,” Frier writes. “Businesses that want our attention—from hotels and restaurant to large consumer brands—change the way they design their spaces and how they market their products, adjusting their strategies to cater to the new visual way to communicate, to be worthy of photographing for Instagram. By looking at the way commercial spaces, products, and even homes are designed, we can see Instagram’s impact, in a way that we can’t as easily see the impact of Facebook or Twitter.”
No Filter shows how Instagram’s dominance acts as a lens into our society, highlighting our fraught relationship with technology, our desire for perfection, and the battle within tech for its most valuable commodity: our attention.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Frier is a technology reporter for Bloomberg News. Her award-winning features and breaking stories have earned her a reputation as an expert on how Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter make business decisions that affect their futures and our society. Frier is a frequent contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek and Bloomberg Television. She lives in San Francisco, California.
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