No Filter

Author Sarah Frier
Published 2020
Rating 5/10
Status Finished on 2020-10-07

A pleasant and uncontroversial read; it is not the exciting tell-all that Bad Blood or to a lesser extent Super Pumped was, but I think its lack of emphasis on drama gave it a more sober lens with which to view Instagram’s transformation. Some scattered thoughts:

  • It is slightly disappointing how vacuous the reporting on Early Instagram is, compared to the post-Facebook acquisition. Three hours in and the company’s been bought; the majority of the section didn’t even talk about scaling the company but about Systrom getting various backers and celebrities!
  • It is entertaining though how wholesome the rise to power is compared to Bad Blood or Super Pumped. The thesis of this book is clearly about Systrom being a pretty good guy who tried to protect his work from Facebook.
  • A very interesting aside during the antitrust drama: Facebook’s entire case for it not being a monopolistic move is that they could point to Facebook Camera being a much weaker and less popular app than Instagram, and thus they were doing something rationally competitive (rather than framing it against Facebook’s app itself.) This is ingenious and evil and makes me wonder if all of Facebook’s shovelware apps have the same purpose: to make M&A (and various competitive analyses) more palatable.
  • One useful point this book is emphasizing is just how feature-poor Instagram was for so long. Editing captions; DMs; video posts; none of these things existed pre-acquisition, which is somehow hilarious and trenchant.
  • More Twitter than Instagram, but I was surprised to learn that the Ellen selfie was completely staged. I think a useful point this book makes is that for all the engineering focus I give to social media companies, the partnerships & celebrity recruiting teams spend so much time and energy manufacturing every possible angle.
Highlights

“Everything breaks at a billion,” to quote an anonymous Instagram executive.