A billion-dollar Easter Monday

Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram has taken everybody by surprise, but a few hour’s of analysis seems to have come to the consensus that it was both obvious and obligatory for Zuckerberg to make his move: Instagram was cornering the mobile photo-sharing game, and it had something else that Facebook doesn’t have any more, though I think it once did – a passionate user base.

I’m with John Gruber – this shows that value creation for developers lies in iOS, not Android. I also suspect that Facebook will find a way to ruin Instagram – the combination of absent ethics and atrocious aesthetics makes me doubt Facebook can keep Instagram on the path it had made for itself. I could be wrong, but I give it 10 to 14 months before Facebook assimilation syndrome causes¬†Instagram some real harm. Actually, I reckon 10 months is optimistic.

The other bizarre billion-dollar acquisition yesterday was Microsoft taking a whole bundle of patents off AOL’s hands. If ever one day encapsulates how the software industry has evolved and where it’s going, I reckon yesterday was the day. It turns out Microsoft effectively owns Netscape now, a rich irony for internet historians – on the day Facebook is buying the future of mobile photography, Microsoft is buying the history of desktop web browsing.

But more worrying is how this tangle of patent litigation – and this acquisition is all about weaponising patents – will make it impossible for future Netscapes or Instagrams or whatever to get to the stage where they are snapped up for a billion dollars. The software patent sprawl is an unmitigated disaster for innovation and, in what really offends me, common sense.

Easter Monday, 2012 – the lessons of yesterday will reverberate for a long time to come in the tech world, I suspect.

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