Did Facebook just throw Instagram’s rivals a lifeline?

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Like most people, you probably spent the first few moments after hearing about Facebook’s $1 billion purchase of Instagram scraping your jaw off the floor. You may even have engaged in a little incoherent, possibly profane spluttering. I know I did.

But there are some people who’s immediate reactions to the deal may have been a little more complicated: Instagram’s competitors.

It’s not hard to see the deal as bad news for anyone hoping to take on Instagram, which was already the leader in mobile photo apps. Hooking into Facebook’s world-crushing Death Star of a business could easily turn Kevin Systrom’s 12-person app shop into an impregnable dreadnought.

Imagine tying in the social network’s hundreds of millions of users into an already-successful service. Imagine what access to Facebook’s unending engineering resources could do for the product. It could be the end of every one of the thousands of photography apps vying for the public’s attention.

But is there a different take?

Florian Meissner of Berlin-based photo-sharing app Eyeem says that the company spent the weekend getting its new servers online, after an influx of users of the past couple of weeks — many of them fleeing Instagram.

“We started sensing something already two weeks ago,” he told me. “Users started converting to us mostly because they were unhappy about the quality on other services — and that’s really the key for us: enabling our community to decide themselves what they want to see.”

The deal has certainly upset some core Instagram fans, who feel betrayed by a service that many of them saw as the anti-Facebook. Om wrote about the backlash among a number of (Mathew’s roundup of reactions included a brilliant note from a kid who is outraged because “FACEBOOK IS STUPID AND FOR OLD PEOPLE.”

I’ve already seen quite a few people say they now want to switch away, perhaps defecting to services like Path or, indeed Eyeem. And while they may not necessarily be a significant number — certainly not by Facebook’s standards — the foot traffic may be enough to boost those smaller communities.

And of course, even if Instagram remains a separate product inside Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg says that’s something he is committed to), the road of acquisition is rarely entirely smooth. Imagine all those meetings, all that administrative overhead — all small bumps that are probably even more accentuated when you can count most of the employees on your fingers. And that’s before you factor in the time that staff are likely to spend rolling around in their piles of cash.

Cloud or silver lining?

If there is a positive outcome for rivals, the truth is it’s most likely to be a simple one: that Instagram goes mainstream and brings the idea of photosharing to the masses. After all, if everyone who uses Facebook (which means everyone, more or less) will suddenly be introduced to the idea of these apps, that will increase the activity in the space in general.

Still, whatever hope competitors may glean from this blockbuster deal, let’s not pretend that this is rosy news for the thousands of photo-sharing wannabe companies out there. They were all trailing Instagram before yesterday, and now they could be left a long, long way behind.

Sure, they may feel like they can make a little progress while Instagram gets mired in the bureaucracy of joining a big business — but the chances are that whoever they are, they’ll struggle to be heard above Instagram’s roar.

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