Instagram Shuts Down Developers, Plans Official API

You may remember the full featured, unpublished API from popular mobile photo sharing site Instagram that we covered last month. The interface was reverse engineered by a developer and today Instagram asked anyone using its private, unofficial Instagram API to stop. At the same time, it announced a beta public API would be coming soon.

One third party service built on top of Instagram is Followgram, which bills itself as an Instagram directory. The site is currently down until "Instagram releases a public API."

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom has a thoughtful response to developers about the company's moves to stop developers from using its API:

An API is a contract with the developer world. It says "Here's how to interact with our system, the set of rules, guidelines, etc. that come along with it, and we promise not to change the endpoints/responses without notice.". The current private API changes on a daily basis. Endpoints are added & removed - response formats are changed with new client releases, etc. In other words, the private API's stability and isn't fit for anyone to use except for the developers that understand what's going on with those changes. When 3rd parties develop using this API, their sites will inevitably break when we change things. We don't think this is a good experience for developers or for users.

The reasoning brings up a good point and shows that Instagram does not want to tread lightly into becoming an API provider. Systrom also mentioned receiving user questions about their images showing up on other sites, something that Instagram would hopefully make clear with privacy settings before an API is in place.

Still, this shows that developers will find a way to use a service if it's interesting enough, with or without an official API. That's how the mashup was born, after all.

Systrom says Instagram is committed to having an API, but on their own schedule:

We are absolutely 100% behind supporting developers that want to build on top of Instagram... soon. We're currently working on our first release of an API (as we mentioned in a TechCrunch interview in late december when we crossed 1 million users). There's clearly a lot of excitement behind building things for Instagram, and I only wish that we could have an API out today, but unfortunately it's harder than simply flipping a switch.

A beta version of the public Instagram API may be available within "the next week or so," according to Systrom. Current Instagram mashups like Followgram would likely be the first accepted into the program.

via Mike Maney

Be sure to read the next Mobile article: The Emerging Economics of Open Mobile APIs