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Why we won't sell your photos

18th December 2012

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Instagram is perhaps the success story of social photography. It kicked started the iPhoneography trend for nostalgic, social picture sharing. Its use of filters and its intrinsic push to share your picture on existing social platforms saw its meteoric rise, which culminated in its sale to Facebook earlier this year for $1billion.

The problem with this astronomically priced purchase is that, sooner or later, Instagram - like its new owner - was going to have to start making money. And, with yesterday's announcement that it would now have the rights to sell your images without your knowledge, sooner seems to be the case.

In a policy that's quickly been dubbed "Instagram's suicide note" the young photo sharing giant added a simple line to its Terms of Service. It now states that "a business or other entity may pay us [Instagram] to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you."

Of course, many other lines were also added but this is the one that's bound to leave Instagrammers around the world more than a little uneasy. Especially considering the only way to opt out of this new policy is by not using the service. Or deleting your account.

But should we be surprised by this move? Or is it simply endemic to the culture of free that's been growing quickly with the social revolution online?

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Free is one of the most searched for terms on the web. And the prevailing attitude is that people won't pay to access things online. We'll buy physical objects which get delivered to our door but, by and large, we won't pay to access content.

The accepted approach to growing a social network is 'build an audience fast, build the business later' - revenue generation is seen as an inhibitor to growth.

And, as such, the big questions that have always surrounded the long term viability of Facebook, Twitter and now Instagram are based on this.

How will bolting on a business model change the proposition? Will it still work? That's a question Instagram must be asking itself today.

All the big social networks have built huge audiences this way, but at huge cost and with no proven, profitable business model.

And what does free actually mean, anyway?

Our information, our pictures and our habits are the commodity the giant social networks thrive on. This approach isn't always wrong, but it's still not a proven method of making a social network viable as a sustainable business - and given the early backlash facing Instagram today, it isn't always right either. And without that viability, its future is uncertain.

For this reason, Blipfoto decided to fly in the face of fashion and do something different in social media. Blipfoto charges a small annual subscription for a full membership. This gives the paid member a whole host of extra functions and helps keep the platform advertising free. It also allows Blipfoto to focus its efforts on protecting and responding to the values of the community rather than the needs of advertisers.

The emotional transaction and the integrity of the approach to managing Blipfoto are core to its values as a community, brand and business. By simply charging people to use the site, Blipfoto is able to protect those values and always work in its users best interests.

But what Blipfoto's doing isn't new. Just take the internet out of the equation, and it's actually a very conventional approach. It's a simple value proposition which people understand and trust, and underpins all of the most stable businesses in the world.

And that's why Blipfoto wouldn't sell your pictures to any third parties - unless, of course, they're helping you make some money.

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