Amid the blaze of criticism, speculation and punditry around Facebook's purchase of Instagram that have lit up the web today, Jack Shafer has posted a smart commentary that resonates with modern journalism. Shafer cites Facebook's move as one which identifies a flaw in their mobile app, which is exploited by Instagram, the ability for people to say, "I'm here." Today he wrote,
Sometimes the simpler the message, the more urgent the need to share it. Example: The first thing most people do upon landing at an airport and being told by the captain they can now use their mobile phones is to whip it out and tell someone—anyone!—where they are and where they’re going.
Another example may be, 'the military junta just broke into my home,' or 'our plane just landed safely in the Hudson.' As we've seen from political and social uprisings, the immediacy and simplicity of delivering an expression is integral. These 140-character messages or photos alone are basic, but aggregated en masse, they can have greater and more complex outcomes. Traditional reporting works in a similar fashion.
"I'm here" is the personal equivalent to "this is happening now" or "that just happened" (and not in the Ricky Bobby shake-n-bake way). It's kind of like the idea behind CNN's iReport. This sale off the application could mark a point in the shift from a 'need to know' to a 'need to tell' culture of information sharing. Soon, each Instagram update, tweet and observation can become a data point in a narrative that when compiled, becomes a set for analysis and understanding. It's another form of data journalism, if you will. And Zuckerberg & Co. just bought a whole bunch more data points to track.
Will Facebook's acquisition of this application improve this sort of data collection, or reporting from it? Probably not. Yet, Shafer has honed in on a unique 21st century way that we communicate publicly.