Dev

What Facebook’s world-class engineers will do to Instagram

Facebook is home to some of the best, brightest hackers in the world. Its brain trust of developers is pretty much legendary, and with today’s Instagram acquisition, some of those developers will be spending time on Instagram now, as well.

“We will try to help Instagram continue to grow by using Facebook’s strong engineering team and infrastructure,” wrote Facebook chief executive (a hacker himself) Mark Zuckerberg in this morning’s announcement. And Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom noted in a blog post, “We’ll be working with Facebook to evolve Instagram and build the network. We’ll continue to add new features to the product and find new ways to create a better mobile photos experience.”

Think about the contrast: Facebook’s campus holds thousands of staffers, including a highly trained army of crack engineers. In fact, Facebook is so dedicated to excellence in engineering that it hosts the annual Hacker Cup, a speed programming competition that requires participants to solve algorithmic puzzles of maddening complexity.

Instagram, on the other hand, has 13 employees, total. They’ve labored hard and well to produce an app that’s loved by 30 million users around the globe, but now they’ve also got the resources of one of the world’s engineering giants.

So, what will Facebook’s engineers be able — and likely — to do to Instagram?


Bug squashing and feature fixes

While Instagram’s team is probably delighted on a strippers-and-blow scale that the staff has remained so tiny right up to a mind-blowing $1 billion acquisition, they have likely had their hands more than full for the past two years. Having a small group of engineers can make bug-squashing a long, slow process filled with not-as-fun-as-they-sound hackathon weekends. In a brief poll of my Twitter followers, current Instagram power users complained about crop features not working well, among other minor but frustrating issues.

We predict that Facebook’s army of mobile devs will first devote their attention to fixing these kinds of clumsy features and squashing any bugs that exist, particularly in the just-launched Android app, which has received its share of complaints about usability issues and bugs.


No interface changes

Facebook is known for its best-in-class engineering team, but only recently has devoted more of its attention to modern, beautiful web design, too. While Facebook’s own Timeline designs are getting much, much better, the site is still seeing heavy user interface competition from newer, more agile apps such as Flipboard and Path.

As a result, we don’t think Facebook will be giving the Instagram team too much input on interface and design, which most users don’t seem to complain about much, anyhow.


Deeper Facebook integrations — but not at Twitter’s expense

We’re sure some of Instagram’s technological ties to Facebook will deepen post-acquisition. How did we come up with that stunning leap of logic, you might ask? Well, we’re somewhere between psychics and geniuses, plus we have a Magic 8 Ball in the newsroom.

But seriously, it would be boneheaded to not presume that Facebook sharing from Instagram will get smoother, shinier, and more interesting now that the two companies are one big happy family.

However, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it quite clear in today’s announcement that any relationship with Facebook will not change Instagram’s relationship to other social networks. Twitter sharing will still be there, as will the app’s connection to Tumblr.


A mobile web app — maybe

We’ve been seeing a huge push by Facebook to bring the mobile web to the same level of user experience and technological elegance that you’d see on any other mobile platform, including iOS and Android.

“What we’re not seeing is developers really embracing that mobile web ecosystem the way they’re embracing native…. How can we help them understand the mobile web as a viable option?” asked Facebook mobile developer relations dude James Pierce in a recent on-campus meeting with press.

However, Pierce further noted, a mobile web app isn’t the right solution for every application, particularly apps that require hardware and camera access, as Instagram does. “There’s no one answer,” Pierce concluded. “We have that conversation on a one-by-one basis with individual developers.”

Facebook is working with a consortium of mobile heavyweights to bring better tools and benchmarks to the mobile web. In the next few months or years, projects like Ringmark might bring the mobile web up to the standard that an app like Instagram would require. At that time, it wouldn’t make sense to hold back the hordes of mobile web users from participating in Instagram, as well.

Basically, Facebook’s M.O. (as expressed to VentureBeat by Facebookers themselves) is to collect every user of every smartphone in the world. iOS is a big part of that. Android is a big part of that, too, which is why Instagram’s recent move to Android was so important for this acquisition. And the mobile web, believe it or not, is even more important to Facebook than iOS and Android put together.


A decent web presence

Many users would love to see Instagram get a better web presence. While Facebook’s emphasis these days has been all about mobile, the web is that company’s wheelhouse. It’s entirely possible that Facebook’s engineers might make an Instagram web presence that is both beautiful and functional, perhaps beefing up the Instagram APIs along the way.


A gorgeous Timeline integration

Timeline, Facebook’s new look and feel for profiles, is all about images. We can imagine Instagram’s Timeline integrations getting a lot prettier over the next few weeks.

Already, Instagram photos are flooding Timelines at a rate of six photos per second. Since how the images appear on the Timeline is all about structured data — and since how the data is structured is the responsibility of the third-party developers — we can imagine Facebook’s engineers will have a lot more time and resources to make how Instagram photos appear on the site much better organized and more visually interesting, especially for at-a-glance consumption of multiple photos.

Top image courtesy of Diego Cervo, Shutterstock


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