Did Instagram Lose 25% of Their Users Over Their TOU Debacle?

The NY Post is out with a somewhat sensationalistic article this morning suggesting that based on data by AppData that Instagram MAY (emphasis on MAY) have lost 25% of their users based on last week’s TOU debacle. From the Post:

“[We are] pretty sure the decline in Instagram users was due to the terms of service announcement” on Dec. 17, AppData told The Post.

Instagram, which peaked at 16.4 million active daily users the week it rolled out its policy change, had fallen to 12.4 million as of yesterday, according to the data.”

The NY Post of course has a certain reputation when it comes to journalism (remember the photo of the guy about to be hit by the subway train?).

Staci Kramer, whose journalistic reputation is stellar, pointed me to another article on the subject written by Zach Seward suggesting that the Post story was “bogus.”

Seward does a bit of analysis on the Post’s piece and suggests that it’s flawed for a number of reasons. The first reason is that the data is based on a subset of the users not the entire user base. This is of course the first way to attack any sort of statistical data. It’s why we have the famous margin of error. I don’t know how big a subset of Instagram users this data represents, but in general if you have a large enough subset, you should get a reasonably representative view of things.

Is the Instagram data flawed for this reason? Who knows.

I find Seward’s second claim more questionable though. Seward seems to be suggesting that the reason for the decline in activity has less to do with the Instagram TOU debacle and more to do with something much more obvious, Christmas.

From Seward: “But more to the point, the drop in active daily users of Instagram’s application on Facebook occurred between Dec. 23 and Dec. 25, according to AppData. (Look for yourself!) Instagram released its new terms of use on Dec. 17, igniting controversy almost immediately, but AppData doesn’t show any significant decline in usage until Christmas.”

So this little bit got me thinking. Historically speaking the holidays are a very strong time for photo sharing sites. It makes sense. People take a ton of photos of family during these times and like to share these photos. Just last month, for example, Instagram was crowing about how great a Thanksgiving Holiday they had had. They had a blog post especially dedicated to the “record usage” on Thanksgiving.

Is Christmas really a time when people slow down on photo sharing, as Seward might suggest? Do we like to share photos of our turkeys and stuffing but not our Christmas trees and stockings? Do people share fewer photos on Christmas than Thanksgiving?

Flickr of course is seen by many as a natural beneficiary of Instagram’s TOU debacle. Anecdotally I’ve been seeing more and more and more of these sorts of posts. So I wonder when people posted more photos on Flickr — Thanksgiving or Christmas?

My analysis is fairly crude, and I’m not at all calling it scientific, but you can get a rough idea of the number or photos posted on Flickr during a time frame by looking at the unique number that Flickr affixes to every new photo uploaded.

I post pretty much every single morning on Flickr, so let’s look at my stream for an example.

The very first photo I posted on Thanksgiving morning this year was this one. I posted it at 6:12 a.m. This photo represents the 8,208,796,934th photo posted to Flickr. Almost 24 hours later when I posted my first photo the day after Thanksgiving at 5:43 a.m. it was given the number 8,210,250,875.

This means that in the (almost) 24 hour span between early Thanksgiving on the West Coast and the day after there were about 1,453,941 photos posted to Flickr.

Now, how many photos were posted to Flickr during the similar time frame on Christmas?

I published my very first photo to Flickr on Christmas morning at 5:55 a.m. It was given upload number 8,306,197,725. A little over 24 hours later on the day after Christmas at 6:02 a.m. I uploaded photo number 8,309,811,751 at 6:02 a.m.

So between these two time periods there were 3,614,026 photos uploaded to Flickr.

Roughly speaking there were over twice as many photos posted on Flickr over Christmas than over Thanksgiving. Even if you average out the exact number of minutes between the two days (my time between posts on Christmas had an extra 36 minutes between posts) the Flickr data would still seem to hold up.

While people may share photos differently on Instagram than they do on Flickr, both are basically photo sharing sites where you share photos of your friends, family, holidays, etc.

I find Seward’s suggestion that Christmas is possibly the real reason for Instagram’s usage decline to be dubious in light of this Flickr data.

Why would people upload 2x as many photos on Flickr at Christmas over Thanksgiving but not on Instagram? One answer of course could be Flickr’s awesome new mobile app. Of course this new mobile app would seem to be aimed most directly at Instagram users leading me to believe that Instagram probably has actually lost ground between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

How much of this is attributed to the TOU debacle and how much of this is attributed to the new Flickr app I don’t know, but I certainly don’t think “Christmas” is a very good reason for why the Post’s data is flawed, or worse, “bogus” as Seward would suggest.

Flickr also recently gave every user 3 months of free Pro service — they certainly seem to be taking advantage of Instagram’s misstep here.

So where did those 25% of Instagram users go who MAY have left the service POSSIBLY over the TOU issue? Well, MAYBE at least SOME of them went to Flickr.

Apparently Instagram denied the 25% number to Gizmodo but didn’t really clarify much beyond that.”

‘”This data is inaccurate,” an Instagram spokesperson told us. “We continue to see strong and steady growth in both registered and active users of Instagram.”‘

Why the Instagram Debacle Just Taught Every Tech Company to Take Your Photos More Seriously

Why the Instagram Debacle Just Taught Every Tech Company to Take Your Photos More Seriously

“Whatever kind of victory all those protests achieved, it wasn’t one for consumer rights — if anything, Instagram is the real winner here. The company just managed to score a round of positive press for retracting an unpopular change and give itself the ability to actually use photos in ads.” — Nilay Patel, The Verge

Over at the Verge Nilay Patel makes a case that the backlash earlier this week against Instagram’s unpopular TOS update was actually a loss for consumers, not a gain. He argues that Instagram’s current TOS is broader than their more explicit proposed one and so consumers are worse off, not better off. This is because Instagram technically still holds the rights to sell your photos under their current TOS, and even more broadly — the consumer backlash was misguided and really did more harm than good.

I disagree with Nilay and actually feel that this week’s backlash was one of the more significant movements yet for photo sharing on the web.

It’s not that Facebook (whose TOS is equally broad) and Instagram couldn’t legally sell your photos on the web under their broad TOS in the past or in the future, it’s that *politically* it is now far more difficult for them to begin selling your photos out from under you on the web using their broader TOS.

Who cares what the TOS says — the message that Facebook got loud and clear this week is not to f*** with our photos. Our photos are important. We care about them. They are much more personal than Facebook may have previously considered. They have emotional importance and significance and collectively users will rise up and bash you in the face if you try to exercise terms of your TOS that your lawyers have written to allow you to screw around with our photos.

Whatever your future monetization strategies might be, they will not be based on a loss of control over OUR creative efforts — even our duckface creative efforts.

No, there is no question about it. Instagram lost this week, and they lost big. This is in no way a positive for Instagram. People trust them less now and they had to turn around and eat crow — they gained nothing.

Flickr won big at Instagram’s expense and Google+ won a little. Flickr won more, because like Instagram, their site is 100% about photography. They also just released a pretty awesome new iPhone app that is, in fact, even slickr than what Instagram currently offers.

Flickr also went out of their way last year to really drive home the ownership rights of your photos. This old forgotten post was revived with new life as a stark contrast to what it felt like Instagram was trying to pull. Kevin Systrom eventually even had to parrot back some of that “yes, we know your photos are your photos” stuff in his awkward non-apology apology.

Dan Lyons wrote a post that talked about Google+ winning some here too. Google+ smartly has a provision in their TOS that specifically limits their rights to your photos to basic operational use. Google+ is probably the most active community of photographers on the web today and are a natural beneficiary from what Lyons’ refers to as “Facebook Greedheads.”

The biggest winner of all though was you, the photographer. Whatever Instagram’s original intention was with the new language in their TOS, it backfired on them. The idea that they could/would profit off your emotionally significant photos without your consent, authorization or, most important, sharing the dough hit a nerve with photographers and likely won’t be tried again by anyone for a long time.

The thing is, this didn’t have to be such a painful learning experience for Instagram. There was/is, in fact, a HUGE opportunity for some smart social network to make a ton of money off of your photos. Instagram just went about it wrong.

As much as Flickr’s deal with Getty sucks (photographers get a miserly 20% payout) photographers on Flickr still went bonkers for it when Flickr released it. The idea that you could actually get PAID to post your photos on a social network, paid ANYTHING, had most users on Flickr clamoring to get into the program, not out of the site.

Even though Flickr/Getty’s call for artists group is now closed (due to overwhelming demand) almost 90,000 photographers joined this group hoping to get selected by Getty for the right to sell their photos for the paltry 20% payout.

The difference with Flickr’s deal though is that 1. you CHOOSE to opt in and 2. at least you get paid something.

What if, instead of Instagram saying, “hey, we might sell your photos without your consent and pay you NOTHING,” they said, “hey, do you want to sell your Instagram photos and, if we sell them for you, split the money 50/50”? Instead of losing accounts and becoming the scourge of the internet for three days, they would have had photographers rushing to sign up and begin marketing their images on Instagram.

Although there are sites out there like 500px and SmugMug that let you sell your photos now, Flickr is the only larger social network that has a selling program. Google+, Instagram, Facebook, and even Twitter all have a major opportunity to become the first large social network to allow us to license our images through their service and share in the revenue with them. This is a multi-BILLION dollar industry dominated at present by Getty who is not paying creatives enough for their work. What the internet does best is get rid of middlemen when they are being unreasonable, and an 80/20 split with photographers is unreasonable.

Instead of stealing our work and paying us zero, how about using your significant reach in reputation, marketing and search to partner with us and empower us to sell our work together. I guarantee you that whoever comes up with the best program first will have some of the best photography on the web flooding their network. Even if 99% of us never sell a single photo, simply giving us the feeling that we have the *opportunity* to sell a photo would be a powerful incentive to get us active and humming on your network.

Photographers Upset By Instagram’s Change in Terms of Service

Update: Instagram just posted a blog post clarifying their intentions with their new TOS. More specifically it sounds as if they are going to be changing the wording on the controversial portion of their new TOS and strengthening your ownership rights over your photos. Seems like all the backlash was enough to make them back pedal on this one.

From Kevin Systrom:

“The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question. Our main goal is to avoid things likes advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience. Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.

Ownership Rights Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.”

Earlier today Instagram announced that they are changing their Terms of Service effective January 13th 2013.

The most controversial part of the change is outlined below:

“To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”

Now I have no idea if Instagram actually plans on selling/licensing your photos or not — sometimes the lawyers get a hold of things like this and push the envelope too far with a TOS — but this change seems to go further to me than the typical giving up of rights to your photos for typical social media display purposes.

Facebook’s TOS by contrast reads:

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

While this appears functionally similar to Instagram’s, Facebook doesn’t actually mention so specifically the idea of selling your content and you getting zero compensation.

Google+’s TOS tends to provide photographers greater protection with a provision that your content there can be used for the “limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our services, and to develop new ones.” Nothing about selling off your photos to third parties there, folks.

“When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.”

Flickr takes it even one step further actually dedicating a specific blog post to this issue last year titled “At Flickr Your Photos are Always Yours.

This change today has upset a lot of photographers and content creators. The New York Times takes apart the new TOS here. Blogger Robert Wagner puts his view more succinctly in a blog post titled Goodbye Instagram and f*** you.

Personally speaking, I trust that Google will not sell my photos out from underneath me. I think their TOS is pretty clear about their limited scope of use. I applaud Flickr for taking it one step further with a blog post spelling out that you always own your photos on Flickr. Interestingly enough, even before this announcement I saw my first “I’m leaving you Instagram for Flickr” post this past weekend.

Wired has a post that shows you how to take your photos off of Instagram and delete your account.

Gizmodo seems to take a different view of this situation, calling folks concerned with today’s announcement whiny little babies.

What are your thoughts? Will you continue to use Instagram? Are photographers overreacting here?

My own view is that I think Instagram is pushing it a little too far with this one. I think I’d rather pay them a subscription fee like I pay Flickr than have them out there selling my photos.