A brief review of the 2020 book “No Filter – The Inside Story of Instagram” by Sarah Frier.
Instagram adds no value to my life. It is mediocre technology with a bouquet of products that are poorly managed, mostly copied, and barely maintained. All of this is reflected in Sarah Frier’s take on Instagram. In her book, which supposedly tells the inside story of Instagram, she is largely focused on the people behind the app. She draws a clear and concerning picture of regular people with no better intellect or skill than you or me coming into a position of power, by luck and location more or less, only to then pursue a strategy of pure narcissism and ambiguity.
Frier calls this out specifically during Twitter’s attempt to purchase Instagram when it couldn’t even present a counteroffer because Facebook swept in with a one billion* dollar offer. Instagram’s 13 employees, a handful from the startup Gowalla, which was acquired by Facebook without keeping some folks, should have gotten an equal and fair share, but all except Systrom and Krieger were left with Facebook stock and vesting schedules instead. And while the acquisition didn’t immediately turn Instagram into a Facebook clone, it arguably sucked the life out of the startup, its people, and its users in exchange for ruthless growth. Inevitably, Instagram became the success it once was because of Facebook.
I found Frier’s account fair and balanced, slightly favoring Instagram and its early employees. The plethora of regulatory issues Instagram faced over the years is largely missing. Reading more about Instagram violating the privacy rights of teenagers or its tendency to build addictive features designed to target teenagers would have added a much-needed edge to this book. Would I recommend “No Filter”? Probably as a summer afternoon read for anyone interested in Instagram’s founders’ personalities. It does reveal insights into the narcissistic tendencies of both employees and users, which perhaps create an interesting psychological angle for some people. Altogether, “No Filter” is a good book with solid research and adequate writing worth reading when you are waiting for your next haircut.
*It was never 1 billion dollars. It was around $300 million in cash and 23 million in Facebook stock. Put together this came out to about $715 million.