AUSTIN, TX — Instagram co-founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom shocked the tech world when they left Facebook in 2018 after selling their creation to Mark Zuckerberg's social network. Today at SXSW, the pair talked about their early days, what led them to bring Snapchat's Stories feature to Instagram and the need for more content warnings with regard to posts about opioids and guns.
On Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to bring cross-platform messaging between Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp users, Systrom seemed unsure. Specifically, he said he didn’t know if those users "want to talk to each other," before saying he’s not not a WhatsApp user, so he's not the market. Krieger noted that there were fiscal upsides to such an integration.
Regarding user safety
Moderator Josh Constine noted that he couldn’t find the Opioid warnings on related content anymore, and that finding dealer contact info was easy. This prompted Systrom to say that the Instagram team would want to hear about this, because those warnings should still be up.
After talking about the unsettling content on Instagram under #guns and acknowledging free speech was important, Systrom concluded by saying these things shouldn’t be on Instagram without appropriate warnings.
Authenticity on Instagram
Asked about how Instagram feeds are seen as a fake, too happy presentation of our lives, the co-founders pushed back, saying there is always self-editing in your life, and social media is no different. Things used to be different, with users posting sidewalks and half eaten sandwiches, according to Systrom, who said that the concept of users "following" each other changed that, pushing people to be especially selective.
This led to talking about Instagram stories, which Systrom framed as a way for "more casual shares, and more comfort and intimacy." Asked about the debate between using your real name or not as your handle, Systrom said "you should be whomever you want to be on whatever platform you’re on."
The option to switch between multiple accounts, he said, was added for each of our multiple angles. While Systrom didn’t seem to lean on either side of regulating influencers and ads, he noted a concern that Instagram will lose its authenticity.
Selling to Facebook and leaving Facebook
The co-founders didn't want to go over the story of how they signed to Facebook and left. The only bit they added was that their decision to go with FB was betting on their company, which they think worked out, as they hit a billion users not long after.
Regarding their loss of autonomy, the original reason reported for them leaving Facebook: they spoke to a lack of autonomy is being a natural sign of success, as Instagram became more important to Facebook overall. Uninterested in explaining more about their final days, Systrom noted that "doesn’t matter," before saying that Instagram’s success is "everything."
Systrom explained that Snapchat’s Stories landed on Instagram because they saw users with Snapchat IDs in their Instagram profile. He took that to mean that "people wanted to bridge the two together," before saying "so we gave them what they wanted."
Being young and in charge
Krieger told a story about how once once fixed a downed Instagram at 3:30 in the morning after a night of partying. He was so drunk at the time that he re-discovered what he'd done the following morning, when looking through the coding program Terminal.
Systrom noted they met in college, where Instagram began as a check-in app, as they didn’t know what it would become. The best way to share what you were up to, they discovered, was photography.