Instagram Just Geotagged Us To Hell

When Politics Drive Product Decisions, We All Lose

Earlier today, I went to post a photo to Instagram. I had done this 1,935 times before without a problem. Today was different though.

My routine is always the same: load Instagram, pick a photo to upload, apply filters, tap area to geotag to the place the photo was taken, and… wait a minute. Something odd was afoot. For some reason, my photo wasn’t geotagged. (It was because I was in an area without service, so I had put my iPhone on airplane mode). So I had to manually search for the location.

Somewhat of a hassle, but no big deal, right? Well, in the past, no. Today, however, it proved to be impossible. Because Instagram had quietly switched me over from Foursquare’s excellent place database, to Facebook’s shitty one. Try as I might, I could not locate the venue.

Naturally, I took to Twitter to rant about this as I so often do. However, the result this time was a bit different: Much responses. So rage. Basically, it seems like everyone I know is feeling this pain as well. And we’re all annoyed for the same reason: Instagram clearly made a business decision, not one to better their product.

But wait, Facebook now owns Instagram, so of course they’re going to want to use their own place database, right? I guess. The issue I’m having is that for the first couple years after the deal, the database remained in the hands of Foursquare’s trusty API. Now, for whatever reason, that has changed (at least for some users). And we’re all worse off as a result.

That’s the real problem here. I get that Facebook owns Instagram and so they want to bring the geo functionality in-house as well. But the product is worse because of this change. Facebook’s place database is a nightmare of mislabeled and mislocated geo-barf. The data makes Apple Maps look like a pristine globe of information (more on that in a second).

Of course, Instagram/Facebook are hardly the first team to do such a thing. In fact, similar situations seem to happen quite often. The removal of Google Maps from the iPhone is perhaps the most well-known recent example.

There too, both Google and Apple had their reasons. From a business-perspective, it was likely the right call. But we all had to suffer as a result. Some of us are still suffering as a result. Apple Maps was and is simply not as good as Google Maps. Full stop. And so we’re left with a worse experience.

And this isn’t even the first time this has happened regarding Instagram. Remember the time when Instagram and/or Twitter removed the ability to view Instagram photos inline in the Twitter cards? Again, the end result was a shittier user experience. Due to politics. Or whatever.

I guess I’m still surprised that I get surprised each time something like this happens. I want to believe that all of these companies care first and foremost about serving up the best experience to their users. And they do — as long as it doesn’t get in the way of business, or land on the wrong side of politics. Which is, of course, bullshit.

That doesn’t make it any easier for us, the users, to swallow. In fact, it makes it harder.