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Instagram, maker of a fast-growing photo-sharing service, is defending itself from critics after blocking a website which made it easier to view users’ photos outside of Instagram’s mobile app.
There was a whiff of hypocrisy to the incident, where Instagram blocked Followgram’s access to its photos shortly after the website got written up in TheNextWeb and other outlets, since Instagram has thrived on using connections to other Web services like Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr.
These automated connections, known as application programming interfaces or APIs, are becoming an expected part of a Web startup’s offerings. But Followgram, it seemed, jumped the gun, attempting to pull content from Instagram without an official API in place.
All the hullabaloo could have been avoided, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told VentureBeat, if Followgram had only worked with the company earlier.
‘“We 100 percent support third-party developers and want to make sure that we have a solution for them. The Followgram website caused lots of users to be concerned that their content was being distributed without permission,” said Systrom.
Instagram, which allows users to manipulate images they take with their smartphones using different filters and effects, has been riding a wave of popularity surrounding photo apps which has included possible new funding and a wave of competitors including Gowalla, Hipstamatic and Foursquare.
It blocked Followgram from letting its users share those photos online or connect their profiles to other users by accessing an RSS feed. Instagram, for now, only makes photos available to users of its app or their followers on Facebook and Twitter, when they choose to share a link to a photo.
That method was clearly out of bounds according to Instagram’s own guidelines—a point Systrom said the company repeatedly stressed to the creator of Followgram. Instagram’s overtures, he said, were met with silence, leaving little recourse but for it to put Followgram on ice.
‘“We asked them nicely a few times if they would like to participate in the beta API program, but they never responded. Instead, they dodged any attempt to protect users’ data that we made,” he added.
For its part, Followgram had initially come out swinging, with founder Herman Schutte quickly weighing in on a Quora thread prior to Systrom’s comments by saying, “Yes, the website was in violation of their terms of service and I probably shouldn’t have used their API. But I also think that with the current start p boom, companies like Instagram should not wait this long before releasing a public API.”
However, the clearly chagrined Followgram has now gotten the message, it seems: Followgram’s site now reads, “Sorry folks, looks like we have to say goodbye for now. We’ll be back as soon as Instagram releases a public API. In the meantime keep snapping those Instagram photos.”
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