I knew I’d enjoy the story behind Instagram; I wasn’t disappointed. If you’ve ever wondered about how Instagram came about, how it works, or if you just like social media or photography, you’ll be interested to read No Filter.
It might sound boring at first. How can reading about people sitting around typing computer code to build an app be interesting? Well, when you put it that way… But that’s not how Instagram (IG) went down.
In the book, you learn about the many influences that caused IG to come to life at the beginning and then grow into the 2nd biggest social network ever! You’ll understand just how that worked out.
One favorite tidbit of mine was how the whole concept developed. Without spoiling all the details (skip the rest of this paragraph if you want zero spoilers), Kevin Systrom, one of the co-founders of IG, enjoyed photography. On a trip, he was made to use an old low quality camera that only shot square photos, forcing him to be creative. Later, these constraints were applied to IG.
No Filter is interesting because there are many people involved, each with their own agendas, goals, biases, motivations, proclivities, affinities, flaws, and strengths. Like characters in any story, these cause plenty of drama. At play are the key factors of power, pride, principles, and personalities of two of the tech-sector’s most prominent leaders ever: Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Kevin Systrom of Instagram.
It’s about Instagram versus Facebook, and versus Twitter, and versus SnapChat. The CEO’s of each company, along with their strategic decisions, interact for or against each other at different times. This was very interesting.
The story-arc I was most fascinated to learn was how IG tragically devolved from an aesthetic photo sharing service to a social-status popularity contest among influencers!
At the start, IG was nice because the built-in photo filters helped make pictures look good, even artistic, at a time when smartphone cameras were poor quality. But as the cameras improved, photo filters were less important.
Instead, there was a new way to use “filters.” These were not for pictures themselves; they were for the people taking the pictures. To gain followers and likes, and thus sponsored ads, people filtered their own lives, making them appear much nicer and cooler than reality. #fake.
Creativity and beauty – art – were not an end in themselves, something to be appreciated and enjoyed. They were used as a means to an end: fame and fortune. Regular users strove to appear as celebrities. With glitz and glam, or even shock value, they became known as “Influencers.”
It’s important to understand that IG’s degraded ethos had an adverse affect on our culture at large. Young teens, for example, suffered burdensome pressure to perform. Seeking ever more validation, some buckled under the induced anxiety. In fact, this harmful trend was a driving reason why SnapChat came into existence.
In sum, there was a lot more going on behind the scenes involving IG than you may realize. It’s this behind-the-curtain look in No Filter that I enjoyed. It’s apt to say the devil’s in the details.
The Book & The Writing
Sarah Frier’s work details the history of IG in a chronological narrative. It’s not dry. It reads like a piece of fiction told in the 3rd person, but the fact that this is a true story with real people – literally billions! – makes it all the more involving.
The length is neither too short nor too long. I’m kind of a slow reader, and it took me about two weeks to read this book in my spare time. I got through much of it on the weekends.
No Filter goes on the bookshelf with Steven Levy’s, Facebook: The Inside Story. It’s kind of remarkable to me that these two books were released so close together this year.
Reading the story of IG made me want to also read the story of Twitter! It’s called, Hatching Twitter, by Nick Bilton. So yeah, that’s on my to-read shelf now!
So, if you’re looking for a good read, I recommend No Filter by Sarah Frier.