Kara Swisher

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Clicking on a Fortune: Facebook to Acquire Photo-Sharing Start-Up Instagram for $1 Billion

Facebook has just announced that it will acquire Instagram, the popular mobile photo-sharing service, for $1 billion in cash and shares.

The social networking giant posted on the acquisition, its biggest yet, on its site, as well as on CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Timeline on Facebook.

Photos are critically important for Facebook, which has been slow to innovate in the fast-growing mobile arena in the important consumer space. By contrast, Instagram has taken the arena by storm, with its delightful and elegant app and the motto, “Fast beautiful photo sharing.”

Consumers have responded (including me — it is the only non-communications app I use many times a day). The San Francisco-based company — with only 13 employees — had 30 million Apple iPhone users before it came to Google’s Android last week, where it got more than a million new users in just 12 hours.

Still, despite all the usage, Instagram had not articulated a plan for, you know, making money. Now, that will presumably be Facebook’s problem to solve.

The Facebook acquisition has been kept very quiet, with its CEO Kevin Systrom working on it in conjunction with new fundraising efforts that would have valued the company at $500 million. Liz Gannes reported on this effort last week, which was poised to close, in fact, before the Facebook deal was struck over the weekend.

Until now, Instagram has received Series A funding of $7 million led by Benchmark Capital just over a year ago, when it only had 1.75 million registered users.

Seed investors include Andreessen Horowitz — which did not follow on later — and Baseline Ventures. Also in the Benchmark round: Twitter creator Jack Dorsey, former Facebooker Adam D’Angelo and Chris Sacca.

In a blog post titled “Instagram + Facebook,” Systrom promised no change, except for the $1 billion mountain of cash:

“It’s important to be clear that Instagram is not going away. We’ll be working with Facebook to evolve Instagram and build the network … The Instagram app will still be the same one you know and love.”

Zuckerberg also promised that Facebook would keep Instagram independent, and that such a large purchase would be rare for the company, which is set to go public soon.

“This is an important milestone for Facebook because it’s the first time we’ve ever acquired a product and company with so many users,” he wrote. “We don’t plan on doing many more of these, if any at all.”

Here is the full press release from Facebook:

Facebook to Acquire Instagram

MENLO PARK, CALIF. — April 9, 2012 — Facebook announced today that it has reached an agreement to acquire Instagram, a fun, popular photo-sharing app for mobile devices.

The total consideration for San Francisco-based Instagram is approximately $1 billion in a combination of cash and shares of Facebook. The transaction, which is subject to customary closing conditions, is expected to close later this quarter.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, posted about the transaction on his Timeline:

I’m excited to share the news that we’ve agreed to acquire Instagram and that their talented team will be joining Facebook.

For years, we’ve focused on building the best experience for sharing photos with your friends and family. Now, we’ll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to also offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests.

We believe these are different experiences that complement each other. But in order to do this well, we need to be mindful about keeping and building on Instagram’s strengths and features rather than just trying to integrate everything into Facebook.

That’s why we’re committed to building and growing Instagram independently. Millions of people around the world love the Instagram app and the brand associated with it, and our goal is to help spread this app and brand to even more people.

We think the fact that Instagram is connected to other services beyond Facebook is an important part of the experience. We plan on keeping features like the ability to post to other social networks, the ability to not share your Instagrams on Facebook if you want, and the ability to have followers and follow people separately from your friends on Facebook.

These and many other features are important parts of the Instagram experience and we understand that. We will try to learn from Instagram’s experience to build similar features into our other products. At the same time, we will try to help Instagram continue to grow by using Facebook’s strong engineering team and infrastructure.

This is an important milestone for Facebook because it’s the first time we’ve ever acquired a product and company with so many users. We don’t plan on doing many more of these, if any at all. But providing the best photo sharing experience is one reason why so many people love Facebook and we knew it would be worth bringing these two companies together.

We’re looking forward to working with the Instagram team and to all of the great new experiences we’re going to be able to build together.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik