Instagram and the Zuckerbergian plan for global conquest

The deal is the latest piece of a methodical strategy to morph Facebook into more than a social network.

If we needed another reminder that Hollywood and history often have an arm’s length association, consider the Mark Zuckerberg who Aaron Sorkin created in “The Social Network.” That celluloid Zuckerberg was a callow nebbish who didn’t really know what Facebook ought to be and needed Sean Parker to get him to think seriously about the possibility of greatness. Facebook’s move today to acquire Instagram offers a film critic’s biggest argument why they ought to send the storyline back for a rewrite.

Some describe this deal as an inexpensive way for Facebook to compensate for churn. Others see this as a clever way to help Facebook solve its mobile problem. In an interesting Quora thread devoted to the Instagram acquisition, Robert Scoble offered that it might even open the way for a new kind of advertising arrangement where “Facebook will be able to offer mobile developers a lot of money in return for opening their apps up to Open Graph.”

Venture Capitalists in Silicon Valley are slobbering over this new potential revenue stream, so having lots of VC buyin (they just got a nice payday) will be very important. Imagine that Benchmark now “asks” all of its member companies to support such a new advertising scheme? This could result in billions of revenues for Facebook and member companies.

All compelling points. But the bigger reason explaining Facebook’s phenomenal rise has to account for the methodical execution of a “think big” strategy to morph Facebook from only a social network into an essential computing platform, one where users congregate and spend lots — if Mark Zuckerberg has his way it would be all — of their time online.

Zuckerberg has stuck with that vision of the future, keeping his eye on promoting the social network as a hub for playing computer games, listening to music, and watching movies. (There’s an Open Graph component as well so the music experience is social and you can track what friends are listening to.) Now it’s adding better photo sharing into the mix with the acquisition of Instagram, a startup that’s rightly earned plaudits for doing a better job with a technology that’s as social as they get.

Not that Zuckerberg has not periodically screwed up, most famously Facebook’s various missteps on consumer privacy culminated in a deal with the FTC to settle charges that it deceived consumers by failing to keep privacy promises. In retrospect, however, these were blips on the radar. Zuckerberg may not be making all the right moves. But he’s making a lot of them. The Instagram deal is the latest evidence.

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