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Facebook may have justified its then-$1bn purchase of Instagram on a number of grounds, but one thing is for sure: with brand adoption of the popular mobile photo-based social network surging, Facebook is inevitably going to try to capitalize on the commercial potential of its new asset.
Ironically, that means that, despite the fact that mobile is almost certainly Facebook's future, the world's largest social network needs to make Instagram more web-friendly.
Yesterday, it moved to do just that by announcing web profiles. As the Instagram blog explains, web profiles display "a selection of your recently shared photographs just above your profile photo and bio, giving others a snapshot of the photos you share on Instagram." Web profiles also allow users to follow other users, like photos and post comments.
Inspired by Facebook
Historically, Facebook has acquired small, young startups as part of an acquihire strategy. When it purchased Instagram, however, it indicated that it would continue to operate the popular service as a standalone entity, perhaps the first time it had done so.
There's no evidence that Facebook has modified its plans, but you don't need to have a keen eye to recognize the similarities between the layout of Instagram's new web profiles and Facebook's own profiles. As AllThingsDigital's Mike Isaac writes, Instagram is "beginning to look a lot like Facebook."
To be sure, there are some key differences, but the similarity raises questions about Instagram's direction going forward and while Facebook's success makes it an ideal source of inspiration, there are risks if the Instagram team takes too many cues from its corporate overlord.
A plus for users, but a boon for brands?
Instagram says "We’re launching web profiles to give you a simple way to share your photos with more people and to make it easier to discover new users on the web" but it seems likely that a big part of the rationale for launching profiles is to make Instagram a friendlier channel for brands.
On this point, it's no surprise that in announcing profiles, Facebook and Instagram chose to highlight the web profile of Nike, one of the most popular brands on Instagram with more than 500,000 followers.
Obviously, the launch of web profiles doesn't mean that the world's largest social network will look to turn brand usage of Instagram into dollars tomorrow, but brand marketers who may have been irked by the apparent changes Facebook has made to the Edgerank algorithm -- changes that happen to promote Promoted Posts -- should probably count on monetization-related changes at some point, perhaps sooner than later.