Instagram goes from $0 to $1 billion in 17 months

Instagram, the incredibly popular free photo-sharing app, launched in October of 2010. Within the first week, the app had almost 200,000 users. That number jumped to 1.75 million in February 2011 and three months later there were 4 million people using the app. Of course, 4 million isn’t anything to write home about according to today’s standards, but it was certainly a respectable number.

On April 10, Facebook acquired the San Francisco-based startup for a whopping $1 billion. At the time of the acquisition, Instagram’s iOS app has been downloaded over 30 million times. The Android app, which was recently released, saw over 5 million downloads in six days.

One of the interesting tidbits of the acquisition is that a week before Facebook bought Instagram, the startup was valued at $500 million. So in a week’s time, the value of Instagram apparently doubled.

The $1 billion price tag has definitely raised some eyebrows, and for good reason: The company is only 17 months old and has a measly 13 employees. They also haven’t generated any revenue whatsoever. Some people even compared Instagram’s worth to the New York Times, noting that the 116-year-old national newspaper company is worth less than a 17-month-old photo app. It’s also worth noting that, in the same year, Kodak filed for bankruptcy while Instagram gets bought for $1 billion; the times they are a changin’.

Large Silicon Valley acquisitions aren’t uncommon, but it is indeed strange for such a small company to be offered ten figures. Then again, we kind of knew what Facebook was really acquiring: Instagram users — 30 million of them. The extremely large user base is what Facebook really wants (and I suppose the resources and features of the Instagram app don’t hurt either).

In any case, the Facebook acquisition has not stopped the influx of new Instagram users, even though many current users are jumping ship now that the social-networking giant has a hold on the app. The iOS version hit the number one spot in the iTunes App Store for the first time ever this week.

It’ll be interesting to see what Facebook does with the photo app. Will they leave it as is? Will they use the visual-filter features on their own photo-sharing web interface? Will they completely shut it down like they did with Gowalla (probably not)? We’ll have to wait and see.

Would you trade in your social media passwords for a job?

The practice of employers looking up social media profiles of prospective employees is nothing new. It’s a great way to learn a lot about a person from the things that they choose to broadcast to the public. However, there comes a point where this all may go a little too far — specifically when a potential employee’s profile is set to private.

Associated Press reports that some job seekers have been asked during the interview to hand over their Facebook passwords. Justin Bassett, a New York statistician, was asked to disclose his Facebook login credentials to the interviewer. Bassett withdrew his application.

Others weren’t directly asked for their passwords, but they were asked to log in to their Facebook account so that the interviewer could have a peek.

While most job candidates would decline to give out their passwords, there are some job seekers who are so desperate for a job, they have no choice but to hand over such information to the company.

In 2010 a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was asked for his login information so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. The security guard handed it over saying, “I needed my job to feed my family.”

Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor says that this practice is “an egregious privacy violation” and “it’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys.”

Surprisingly, this is all completely legal, but legislation is being proposed in Illinois and Maryland, with more states possibly joining in later.

Personally, I have nothing to hide when it comes to my social media profiles. If an employer wants to look at my Facebook profile, they can do so, but I will never give my password away to anyone. However, I probably wouldn’t mind logging into my Facebook and letting them surf around for a bit while I at least watch (as long as they were just looking at my profile and not digging into my settings), although that does sound extremely juvenile and definitely says something about the maturity of the company.

What about you? Would you let a potential employer have your password or at least log in for them so they can look around?

“Batch” is the ultimate mobile photo sharing app for iPhone

In the smart phone era, everyone is an amateur photographer. Equipped with high-def capabilities and nearly bottomless storage, we produce a lot of photos on a daily basis which we’ve opted to share individually on Twitter or in bulk on Facebook. The problem is that sharing full albums with friends requires a bit of effort — downloading to your desktop, uploading to Facebook — why can’t we do it on the go?

Batch is an iPhone app that allows you to easily share large numbers of photos with your friends without needing to make a stop at your computer. Sharing photos from your phone isn’t exactly a game-changer, but Batch is one of the first to offer a way to share many pictures with just a few taps.

Credit: iTunes App Store

The beauty of Batch is its simplicity. A focused design lets you snap pictures, tag friends, and share your albums without any fuss. Friends can leave comments or simply ‘Like’ what they see. Batch allows you to post a link to your albums on Facebook and Twitter for friends to view anywhere. Photos dominate the screen and you can easily flip through pages of your own pictures or albums posted to your feed by friends. Privacy settings are a cinch, letting you make some albums private or share with just a few friends at a time.

The downside? Batch requires a Facebook account for login. But come on, you already have one of those…

Batch keeps your photos safe and your friends updated. If you take a lot of pictures with your iPhone, batch is an absolute must. Photo-sharing apps seem to be the big thing right now, with Instagram and Path making big gains each month, but Batch is the first to perfect the idea of sharing full albums on the go.

Take a boatload of photos, share them with Batch.

Diaspora Seeks Donations, PayPal Freezes Account


UPDATE: After some prodding and community outcry, PayPal released Diaspora’s account.

Remember Diaspora? The group of NYU students that asked for $15,000 on to create a decentralized alternative to Facebook, and made headlines when they garnered a shocking $200,000 instead? Yeah, they’re still around, and to my surprise, they have some pretty cool stuff to show for their time and your donations. But now the funding has dried up and Diaspora is passing the hat again.

Recently the Diaspora team sent out an email to reinforce that they are neither vaporware nor a Nigerian prince, and reminded us that we can use their current implementation by downloading the source code or joining a pod to give Diaspora a feel. They also wrote to say that they need money — after all, Diaspora is a non-commercial organization with plenty of overhead to cover including hosting, coding, and $4 burritos. No problem, I’d be happy to contribute to an open-source alternative to Facebook, so I’ll just make a donation to their PayPal account — oh, wait…

PayPal is at it again. Just a few days after Diaspora’s request for donations, the money started rolling in, and just as suddenly, PayPal pulled the plug without saying why. Is this a fatal blow to Diaspora? No, probably not, but certainly a pain for a group of kids that would rather not call mom and dad to help with rent. I think the better question is “should groups ever use PayPal for donations?” With PayPal’s history of arbitrary and unexplained account freezes, even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it may not be a safe bet to trust PayPal with your charity funds.

PayPal situation aside, I’m interested in where Diaspora is going. There’s something interesting about the group of young people working on this project…a sort of benevolent energy that you just don’t see in a lot of  tech organizations. Heck, they even went so far as to show the public how they spent their initial funding. I’m split — I like the fresh-looking app they’ve created, but I’m not sure it will ever take off. Maybe it would work for intra-company communication or project coordination… but is it a realistic contender for the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+?

Minimalistic design of Diaspora.

Keep a sharp eye on these guys, I think they’re going to turn Diaspora into something neat, even if it isn’t the Facebook killer everyone hoped. If you’d like to contribute to their cause, leave your loose change here.

Real-Time Search and Improved Hashtags Now Supported in Google+

Vic Gundotra, the mind behind much of Google+, made a rare video appearance recently to show off two new features that will keep Facebook on its toes and probably elicit a disgusted groan from Twitter. Real-time search and improved support for hashtags will help Google+ contend with the established utility of Twitter by allowing users to see trending topics, as well one-up Facebook by supporting hashtags (a very popular requested feature).

Gundotra has donned a pretty snazzy purple v-neck for this informative video. Yeah, emphasis should be on these new features, but it really is a nice sweater.

I think the impact this will have on people’s use of Google+ is being understated here. Currently, I spend a lot of time on Twitter, but a majority of my time isn’t spent looking through my stream, it’s checking out the trending topics or searching news tidbits referenced in my friends’ tweets. Twitter’s search feature is arguably it’s strongest feature as it gives you truly up-to-the-second news as it breaks. Suddenly, search king Google has a feature that performs the same task better, and I can only imagine that it will cause people to spend more time on the site.

Google+ has been making steady strides in user base with 50+ million profiles at the time of this writing. While a long way off from Facebook’s nearly 1 billion users, Google+ is giving Facebook a reason to worry by integrating its keen search prowess with an already decent social network. If Google+ can find a way to conveniently display trending topics, I may have found a solid replacement for Digg, Twitter, and even Google’s own Google News. The beauty is that the search grows more powerful as more users join.

I’m pretty excited by the possibilities here — Facebook has already shamelessly taken features (subscriptions?) from Google+ to maintain its advantage, so it can only be a matter of time before they introduce something similar…and in the case of Facebook, a real-time search tool would be incredibly powerful. Sooner or later Facebook will figure out search, and man, Google better watch its back when that happens.

Real-time search hasn’t been integrated into the Google+ apps (Android or iOS), but it can’t be too far away. Great stuff, Google, keep it coming.

Facebook, the ball’s in your court. Twitter, I’m not sure you’re in the same game anymore.

Official Facebook iPad App Is Finally Here

Finally do we no longer have to keep asking Mark Zuckerberg when his iPad app will be hitting the public spectrum. After months of speculation, delays, sneak peeks, and even a dead giveaway, us iPad users finally have our Facebook.

Unsurprisingly, it looks almost identical to the hidden iPad app that was included in the iPhone app update back in July. It has a nice, two-pane view and strongly resembles the iPhone version, which includes a left-hand navigation bar for accessing the News Feed, photos, messages, Groups and settings. However, it doesn’t include any of the newer features such as Timeline, but that will probably come when Facebook’s web interface updates to Timeline. Some of the nicer features of the iPad app include chat, full-screen games, News Feed notifications, and HD video with AirPlay support, which will allow you to stream pretty much any video posted on Facebook to your AppleTV or other AirPlay-compatible device.

One prominent feature that Facebook wanted to emphasize was how photos and videos are a big part of the iPad app. You’ll be able to view them at full-screen, pinch-to-zoom on photos, and take photos and videos on your iPad and upload them directly to Facebook.

Facebook games are also a big feature in the iPad app, with full-screen support thanks to Facebook Platform for mobile devices and iOS. Some popular games will even support additional features such as Facebook Credits.

So, what took Facebook so long to come out with a much-needed iPad app? Well, Zuckerberg for one said that the iPad doesn’t deserve a dedicated Facebook app since it’s not really a mobile device to him. Eventually Facebook gave in and decided to create an experience that was better than the website on an iPad.

Facebook’s official iPad app is available now, along with updates to the iPhone and iPod Touch, in the iTunes app store.

Facebook’s Timeline: Life flashing before your eyes has never been so awesome

Facebook’s new Timeline profiles start rolling out to the public today. Many users were able to preview the new profiles early through Facebook’s Developer program, so I’ve already had a week to play around with Timeline. You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about its “great design” or “privacy nightmare”, so what’s all the fuss about?

Facebook's new Timeline profile

One of the benefits of being both a software engineer and a tech blogger is that I hear unique, contrasting opinions from members of both groups. Software developers tend to abhor innovations in social networks (and it’s no wonder, they understand how data can be misused more than anyone). Many bloggers, on the other hand, swarm around new web innovations, especially when big companies like Facebook release a newsworthy feature.

I’m going to say something that most members of the first group probably wouldn’t agree with: I really like Timeline. Borderline love. While I’m not eager to throw personal information to the wind, I’m excited about Timeline and think it’s a great move by Facebook.

Here’s why:

We’ve never seen this before

The release of Timeline is a rare moment when a company in the social networking sphere does something truly unique. Google+ brought the thunder by introducing great privacy-based sharing tools, and Facebook responded by releasing one of the best-designed web features I’ve seen in a long time. When you look at Timeline for the first time, you won’t need any explanation. Timeline is something you already know how to use, and intuitive design is no accident.

Instant nostalgia

When I first got access to Timeline, I scrolled through 2011 and thought, “Yep, cool, that’s basically what happened this year”. No surprises. Then I started scrolling through 2010, 2009, 2008, and back to 2005 and was completely blown away. Timeline showed me pictures and wall posts that I had long forgotten about, and I easily lost a few hours looking at pictures and reminiscing about the things I did those years.

Digging through old posts on Timeline even made me start up conversations with friends I hadn’t talked to in years. A friend of mine put it very well on Twitter:

@ Was looking back on Timeline and reading some of our old conversations. I like what I saw. #WeWereWayCoolerThan
Benjamin Glaszcz

Another thing I’ve noticed is increased interaction on my posts and pictures from years ago. Since Timeline highlights important events from each year, you’ll notice that important posts will continue to get attention long after they were breaking news. Sure, it might not be a big deal when you post a picture of the ice cream you ate last night, but when your friends and family scroll back to the year your kids were born or when you bought a house, it will continue to be an important (and enjoyable) memory.

Privacy hasn’t changed, you’re just aware of it now

A lot of people seem to be up-in-arms about Timeline because it suddenly displays posts you didn’t know existed anymore. I hope this isn’t news to anyone here: everything you do online is stored somewhere, and it’s in your best interests to assume that information will be there forever. Just because a post was pushed off your Wall back in 2006 doesn’t mean it went away permanently. The good news? All posts and pictures are still subject to the same privacy rules you applied in the first place.

Besides, features like Timeline can be a good thing if used correctly. You’re entirely in control of what gets displayed to your viewers, so make yourself look great! Add a Star to posts about an achievement you earned (stars “pin” the story in a prominent way on your Timeline), and remove posts that don’t reflect how you truly feel. Important events like graduation, weddings, and posts with a high amount of Likes (read “Good Things”) will be the focal point of your profile, and useless chaff like boring wall posts simply disappear.


With Timeline rolling out to a larger audience, I’m eager to hear what the general public thinks of the update. We’re all familiar with the ridiculous pseudo-revolts Facebook users have whenever a new feature is released, but I’ve got a feeling this one will be received better than most.

Facebook Unveils New Features at F8 Developer Conference

Today at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced some new features that will be making their way to users sometime in the future.

Most notable is something called the Timeline, which will take all the status updates from everyone and organize them in an iPad-style magazine of sorts. To keep it from becoming too cluttered, the Timeline will automatically hide and collapse what you don’t really care about while still making everything easily accessible. I’m not sure exactly how Facebook determines what you do and don’t care about, but I’m sure it probably has something to do with a learning algorithm of some kind.

As far as your specific timeline (a.k.a. your profile page), you’ll be able to choose exactly what you want highlighted and featured at any given time, such as a certain photo or status update. Also, any Facebook apps that you use and activity will be summarized in your Timeline (or not, if you so choose).

Facebook will also implement a couple of ways to cut down on the annoyances (finally!). They want to find a way to trim down those too-frequent updates from apps and display similar smaller updates in a way that isn’t too intrusive. Facebook feels that their new Ticker – a newly-released feature many of you have come to hate – is a great place for this.

Social apps were also the name of game at F8. Facebook is going to integrate different apps like Netflix, Spotify and various game and make them more social. You and your friends will be able to share what movies you’re watching on Netflix and listen to music together on Spotify. You’ll also know which movies and music are popular based off of what a majority of your friends are consuming at the time. These apps will begin rolling out right away.

Why Klout Has No Clout

You have no doubt seen people boasting of their Klout score, and how they’re specialists in their chosen field of interest and able to influence dozens of people on certain subjects. You may even have a Klout score yourself, whether you actually chose to be involved with the social media startup or not. It’s a shame then that none of it actually means anything. Klout has no clout. Instead, it’s pretty much worthless.

Those of you who have yet to experience Klout are the lucky ones. It means you haven’t been opted in by the company without direct permission, as many of us have. In a nutshell, Klout is attempting to grade us all by our activity on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. And it is adding more sites to its algorithm on a regular basis, with LinkedIn, Foursquare, and YouTube being the latest properties added to the roll-call.

Klout is meant to analyze how you as an individual interact with others on these sites and consequently rate you from 1 to 100. This is a good idea only for two groups of people: advertisers looking for an easy way to know who to target, and egotists looking for any excuse to show off how superior they are to everybody else. Online, at least.

The main problem with Klout is that it just doesn’t work. It’s like a giant Web-based game that requires you play by the rules to succeed at. You can be a bestselling author who has reached millions of people around the world, but if you’re not on Twitter then Klout will label you a useless minion of the non-social networking underclass. Even those who do play by the rules will find themselves labeled as influential on subjects they have no recollection in ever even discussing.

Klout recently boasted of reaching the 100 million users milestone. Which would be a phenomenal achievement if all those people had actually signed up for the service. Most, however, will have been inadvertently added and will never actively log in and take part. And God forbid they do so only to decide at a later date they want out, because Klout demands you email them to delete your account. It will then take 30 days to be removed from the company’s database, and even after that length of time many are complaining of still not being completely free of Klout.

To summarize: Klout opts you in by default, makes it near-impossible to opt out, doesn’t really work in any real sense, and is pointless anyway. I’d much rather just have a conversation with people using social networking sites than trying to build a score which doesn’t actually mean anything in the real world. Changing, improving, fixing the Klout algorithm will not make any difference. You cannot rank people’s worth in this way using bots. No matter how intelligent these bots may be.

I refuse to be a prisoner to Klout and its scoring system. I am not a number, I am a free man.

How to not suck at Facebook Questions

Please don't, but if you must...

You have probably noticed something new popping up on your Facebook News Feed over the last week or so. For me it started with, “Which is better: Coke or Pepsi?” This seemed innocent enough, so I delightfully clicked the “Coke” button.

I had originally thought it was some type of advertising – as often seen on the right side of the page – but after a little examining I realized that it was a question posted from an actual person. This intrigued me, but not enough to care to investigate further.

Then it started. Which Backstreet Boy is the hottest? What state is the best? Which Arena Football team east of the Mississippi, but South of the Mason Dixon Line has the best cheerleaders?

Wait, what? Who could possibly care about any of these questions? Furthermore, why are they popping up on my news feed? Thinking I had accidentally downloaded some obnoxious Facebook app, I went to my settings to delete or block it. It wasn’t there to be deleted or blocked. Ugh…

Since I have yet to come up with a way to stop the ridiculous questions from polluting my news feed, I figured I would at least write up a guide on how to ask said questions less ridiculously.

Step 1 – Deselect the “Allow anyone to add options” box

The vast majority of questions are undone by the simple fact that the creator of the question doesn’t deselect this box. For example, a simple, legitimate question such as, “Which Big Ten College is the best?” was completely undone by the creator not deselecting this box. Of the 30,000+ votes that question received, close to half were for colleges not in the Big Ten. The question ended up having over 100 options to choose from.

There are some questions that benefit from user submitted choices. One such question I saw was “What is the best small town in North Dakota?” The results were many and there were only a few indiscretions.

But the overwhelmingly large percentage of questions have become pointless and annoying because the “Allow anyone to add options” box was not deselected.

Step 2 – No middle ground

If your question is a choice between Yes or No, stick to Yes or No. Any middle ground, unless it’s well defined in the answer – “Yes, but with this restriction” – is really quite pointless and doesn’t show any real information. Leave the maybe’s out.

Step 3 – Don’t bother with the obvious

“Which state is the best?” California.. Shocker.

Step 4 – Lose the bias

“Hockey or Basketball?” Everyone in the United States knows the answer to this question (basketball). But, lo and behold, the vast majority of the popular vote is hockey. How could this be? Oh wait, the question was posted by someone living in Minnesota at the start of the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament. I can count five legitimate, perennially good hockey teams in that area, and one or two sometimes good basketball teams.

True, over time this question could spread to the rest of the world, but the overall best answer will probably end up being football or baseball. See Step 1.

Step 5 – Leave the hilarity for someone who cares

“What is your favorite book?” Regardless of the choices presented, if one of them is, “I never read books in high school I just watched the movies”, “LoLZ I Luv Fluffy BuNnIes”, or “One that is on fire” guess who wins. My faith in the human race is quickly waning.

So there you have it. Follow those 5 steps and hopefully your Facebook questions will not make most people want to facepalm themselves into an early grave.