⚡ New Event: The Inside Story of Instagram
Bloomberg reporter Sarah Frier on her book No Filter
What a week! I'm finally writing this intro at 7pm Wednesday after days of procrastination. Partly because of work; partly because I've been distracted with The Needle™️; and partly because everything feels so precarious and unpredictable right now (@ Nate Silver) that it feels wrong to jot down even these brief lines more than an hour in advance.
In a funny way, the social media giants won this election simply by not becoming the star (or villain) of the story. Instead, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram made a rare and commendable move to proactively label posts that prematurely declare election results.
That's why I'm especially excited to host Bloomberg reporter Sarah Frier next Thursday. Not only is her book No Filter incredibly nuanced and well-reported (more in the review below), but she's spent the last decade covering the biggest stories at the intersection of tech and politics, from Section 230 to misinformation.
📖 no filter by sarah frier
When I read No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't your standard Silicon Valley hagiography. The book is as much a riveting tale of startup drama and Kevin Systrom's quirks—he's a craft coffee fanatic, for instance—as it is about how business and design decisions drive social products' human impact.
Next Thursday at 5pm PT, we'll invite author Sarah Frier to discuss her book and the politics of platforms. RSVP here:
🔊 our take: how goliath ate david
By Ben Wolfson and Jasmine Sun
Sarah Frier’s deft narrative nonfiction begins as a riveting tale of startup drama, with Instagram’s historic sale to Facebook for $1 billion and a guarantee of business independence. But what follows in No Filter is the story of culture clash and an ongoing debate between curation and automation, ending with (spoiler alert!) the exit of Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.
Systrom and Krieger sold Instagram to Facebook in 2012, and the main drama of the book arises from the ensuing internal battles between Systrom and Zuckerberg. The perfectionistic Systrom envisioned Instagram as a curated experience focused on simplicity and community, while Facebook has alway notorious for moving fast and breaking things. Early on, we learn that Systrom and Krieger were wary of growth hacks, believing that an uncluttered app and minimal notifications would promote a high-quality—even luxe—experience. And when Zuckerberg eventually convinced them to start running ads (their first partner was Michael Kors), Systrom personally edited the photo to fix the white balance.
Initially, Instagram's aspirational branding seemed to pay off. The app enjoyed high favorability ratings and most people's blissful ignorance that they had been acquired at all. Meanwhile, escalating platform scrutiny zeroed in on Facebook and Twitter rather than Instagram's influencer-laden, FaceApped paradise. That's not to say that Instagram didn't create problems—a 2017 study found that it was the worst social network for young people's mental health—but rather, they hid their harms in Facebook's enormous shadow. So as Systrom continued to fraternize with A-listers and redesign his office space, Facebook was left to deal with the thankless tasks of content moderation, antitrust hearings, and generating actual profits—the essential shared infrastructure that both platforms required.
In the end, No Filter is the story of the Facebook-ification of Instagram. Once Zuckerberg put his foot down, insisting that they start carrying their own weight in revenue, Instagram was forced to adopt Facebook’s aggressive focus on growth. By the end of the book, it certainly feels like Zuckerberg and his ruthless management model won out over Systrom's idealism, and I can't help but wonder whether Instagram's relative utopia could only exist because of Facebook's dystopia.
🤔 Can political transparency strengthen company culture? The Expensify case
⚔️ Tim Wu responds to Ben Thompson responding to Tim Wu’s critique of Ben Thompson (phew!)
⛈️ Bring a bucket and a mop for this Weatherization Assistance Program
🎤 A podcast with Casey Newton on nuance in the platform debate
🌼 zuck says oopsie daisy 🌼
💝 a closing note
Here are a few treat-yourself tactics from the Reboot team:
Jasmine: I’ll cozy up, put my phone on DND, and walk to a local cafe for a pastry or hot drink. (Plus a guilty pleasure: true crime podcasts).
Deb: Running, walks, crosswords, chess, and journaling.
Ben: My self-care strategy involves mindless iPhone games—specifically one called Grindstone—and episodes of Ted Lasso.
Em: My therapy microdose Are.na channel, running and showering in the mornings, and moderating alcohol.
Feel free to reply to this email with feedback or check out Reboot’s new Twitter account 🤗 We’ll be live-tweeting events, sharing behind-the-scenes info, and more.
Take care of yourselves,
—Jasmine & Reboot team