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Profile: Kevin Systrom

The general director of Instagram, who promised to clean the Internet of aggression and trolling.

Kevin Systrom. Photo by The New York Times

At the end of July 2017 in the English-speaking Instagram, a new version of the DeepText function was activated, which filters out negative comments from users of the service. The development of the tool took a year, and all this time the process was supervised by the co-founder and general director of Instagram Kevin Systrom.

With the help of the mechanism, he expects to defeat the main, in his opinion, Internet problem – user aggression, groundless insults and trolling. This ambitious project is supported by Facebook’s forces and the support of the stars of IT companies, but Sistrom’s initiative raises doubts among critics.

The road to independence

Journalists and friends know the 33-year-old Kevin Systrom as a tall, moderately bearded man with a friendly handshake and a billion-dollar fortune. But the businessman himself was brought up rather modestly so as not to advertise his wealth. He was born in Massachusetts, in the small town of Holliston, whose population barely exceeds 15,000.

At school, Systrom was fond of programming, and by 1994 he was among the hundreds of children who spent days playing Doom II. When he went through the shooter’s storyline campaign, he began creating his own levels in the built-in editor. At that time, many teenagers were engaged in similar activities, who in the future devoted themselves to coding.

When it was time to choose a university, Systrom, without thinking twice, chose Stanford, tightly connected to the Silicon Valley. Like Mark Zuckerberg, who experimented with coding at Harvard, Systre also devoted free time to programming.

Systrom with his parents at the entrance to his school. Photos of Vanity Fair
At some point, the head of Facebook and the same age Systrom invited him to develop a social network. The future businessman refused – he doubted the success of the project and wanted to finish his studies. Systrom graduated from the University in 2006. Good academic results opened the way to Microsoft, but he preferred Google, which Stanford graduates enjoy special honor. Three years of work in the company, two of which the entrepreneur was engaged in marketing, endowed him with experience, but tired.

Sistroma was interested in three things: own project, coding and photography. He wanted to combine these components into a single development. Working in the company of the largest search engine did not leave time for independent projects, so Systrom left in Nextstop – service advice for travelers. Later, in 2010, the startup absorbed Facebook, but the entrepreneur did not care. By this time, he had found investors for his first serious project – the Burbn service, which later turned into Instagram.

Borrow the old to create a new

As the researcher of creative mechanics Keith Sawyer tells in the book about the history of Instagram , Systre was very fond of the bourbon variety produced in Kentucky. In honor of him, the entrepreneur called the application, inspired by Foursquare. It allowed you to check out, plan events and parties, and also publish photos from meetings.

The concept immediately attracted investors: Silicon Valley businessmen Mark Andrissen and Ben Horowitz invested $ 250,000 in the start-up. The same amount was allocated to the Fund by Baseline Ventures – one of the first Twitter investors.

But, despite this, Burbn failed. The application was a heap of various functions, the use of which was minimal against the backdrop of the heyday of Foursquare.

The attempt brought only one significant plus – Systrom began to cooperate with his future partner on Instagram Mike Krieger. Together, startups decided to focus on one of the functions of Burbn – photosharing. To reassemble the failed project, the partners took nine weeks.

Kevin Systrom, Mike Krieger and engineers work on Instagram in April 2012. Photo by The New York Times
The authors looked at the ideas from competitors: at Hipstamatic they lent the concept of filters that change photos, and with Facebook help optimized the process of sharing. The final development turned out to be convenient and combining the functions already familiar to people. During the first 24 hours of operation Instagram registered 25 thousand people, although the application was available only to the owners of iPhones.

The servers could not cope with the load, and the co-founders were rushing around the office, trying to take control of the situation. It seemed to them that the fate of the project was doomed, and they simply could not ensure its stable operation. However, over the next 9 months, the audience of the application has grown to seven million users.

The success of the startup soon attracted the attention of Mark Zuckerberg – people began to publish much less photos in Facebook, going to Instagram. In April 2012, just 24 months after launch, the head of the social network announced the purchase of Instagram for a billion dollars. For Systrom , the General Director’s chair remained and the opportunity to develop the platform created.

Fighting aggression on the Internet

Over the next five years, Instagram has dramatically changed the culture of posting photos, has found an audience of more than 700 million people and now brings to owners, according to experts , up to three billion dollars a year. All this time, Systre worked as CEO, and co-founder of the startup Mike Krieger took the place of technical director.

Together with the application team, which grew from 13 to 500 employees, the authors outgrew Flickr, Pinterest and Snapchat, becoming almost monopolists in their field. Now Systrom believes that it is time for the company not only to fight for leadership in business, but also to do better all the Internet.

Like the co-founder of Twitter, Evan Williams, the author of Instagram considers the aggression of users as the main problem of the Internet . In 2010, with Krieger, they removed insulting comments on their own, trying to keep a pleasant atmosphere inside the service. But with the growth of the company, manual control became impossible. Therefore, when in June 2016 Facebook introduced the artificial intelligence system DeepText, the Instagram director saw a chance in it.

DeepText Technology Promo

Inside Facebook, this technology analyzes user messages to personalize content, filters spam and unwanted publications. It is capable of analyzing up to several thousand records in 20 languages ​​per second. Systra thought that DeepText could also help Instagram.

According to Wired , Instagram engineers analyzed more than 2 million comments. Then other employees did the same to avoid mistakes. The specialists passed this data to DeepText: the technology compared the comments and analyzed the meaning of emotoji. Under observation in the first place were comments with swear words.

The censoring function relies on the relationship between users: whether they are signed on each other, whether they have friendly or kinship ties. According to Systrom, DeepText is based on human experience, so the probability of error in technology is minimized.

If a person writes a comment that DeepText deems negative, the tool will immediately erase it.

The modified version of DeepText was included in the Instagram in mid-July 2017. While she works only in English, but the authors promised to soon translate it into the main languages ​​of the world, including Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese. If desired, the function can be disabled.

What confuses critics in the figure of Kevin Systrom

A positive image of the innovator has formed around Systrom, although he and his partner Mike Krieger rarely come up with really large-scale new projects. In the entrepreneur’s biography there are a few blank spots that make him doubt his promises.

The dark story of selling Instagram

In 2013, investors and specialists said that Systrom sold Instagram too cheaply. According to various estimates, the real cost of the startup could reach from five to 30 billion dollars. From the side, this story looked like a miscalculation of Systrom, unable to see the potential of its own service. The entrepreneur himself has claimed for several years that he is not bothered by money. “We [Zuckerberg and Systrom] are not in this game for money, but for the opportunity to change the world, ” the billionaire said in October 2016.

These words may seem hypocritical to those who remember the story of The New York Times. In August 2012, the entrepreneur swore that he had never received any offers to buy his service from anyone other than Facebook.

Kevin Systrom and Mark Zuckerberg. Photos of Business Insider

However, the sources of the newspaper claimed that Systrom and Krieger received another proposal from the management of Twitter. The amount of the transaction was then $ 525 million. It is noteworthy that the head of Instagram allegedly met with representatives of the service not in the office, but in restaurants. And when he got the contract about the deal, he gave it back and asked for time to think. Three weeks later the company bought Facebook. The

Guide Twitter, according to unofficial data, was shocked by this outcome. The old friend of Systrom and the founder of the site Jack Dorsey, who was previously interested in Instagram, announced the boycott service: his users lost the opportunity to find friends from Twitter.

If the sources of The New York Times did not lie, Systre probably had a calculated scheme behind him. Having sold the company Facebook, he received not only a huge fortune, but also retained the place of the head, striving for maximum autonomy from Zuckerberg.

Advertising and stolen “Stories”

The image of Kevin Systrom really works for him when he talks about the need to combat aggression. Journalists call him a kind and unselfish person who is not interested in yachts for all his wealth. Sometimes they analyze theInstagram entrepreneur – there often appear animals and alcohol.

Systrom is called an innovator who managed with the support of Facebook to create and develop an independent platform. These statements can not be called false, but they can not but cause doubts.

Suffice it to recall the fall of 2015, when the Instagram leadership allowed companies from 30 countries to advertise in the service. Before that, only some American firms could move there. This radical innovation was provoked by theboard of directors of Facebook, disappointed by the low profit of the service.

Systre with his wife Nicole. Photos from personal Instagram
Systre with his wife Nicole. Photos from personal Instagram
Then the experts calculated that thanks to the advertising Instagram will be able to earn up to a billion dollars a year until around 2019. Earlier the approximate profit of the company was about 595 million. More than 50% of the service audience were dissatisfied with the increase in the number of advertising posts.

Instagram CEO says that Mark Zuckerberg does not interfere in the company’s affairs, but this situation is an example of integrating the Facebook chapter into the Instagram’s policy for the benefit of investors.

If we talk about the innovative talent of Systrom, he fell into question in August 2016. Then users accused the service of copying the function of “History” from Snapchat.

Systrom admitted that the company intentionally borrowed the idea from a competitor, noting that soon this format will begin to appear on other sites. Although the decision of the entrepreneur earned Instagram extra popularity among users of those countries where Snapchat is not in motion, in this situation he looked like anyone, but not an innovator.

Spam and Bots

One of the main problems of Instagram has always been spam. Advertising appears in the comments to photos, user profiles sign a huge number of spam bots, offering to buy watches, flowers or go to the site of sex dating.

According to Systrom, the war with spam began in the fall of 2016, when the team received the first version of the DeepText system. She really learned how to remove advertising junk from the comments. And in April 2017, Instagram closed the Instagress platform , with which users bought bots to wrap their likes.

Judging by the fact that now Systre plans to defeat the aggression in the service, he no longer considers combating spam his main task.

In an interview in July, Wired explained that his initiative could inspire other companies to fight hate on their platforms.

Perhaps our attempt will give an example to other companies. This [the fight against aggression] is a priority. Then a national and international conversation will start about creating a secure online community, not only for our children, but also for our friends and relatives.

Kevin Systrom
Co-founder and CEO of Instagram

The desire of the author of the Instagram seems understandable, but still ambiguous against the background of the fact that inside the service the problem of bots is still acute. They suffer from other social networks, which Systrom calls for combating insults. Twitter suffers from the mass of pornobots, stealing money from users. According to some reports, Russian government structures use bots for propaganda. After the election of the US president in 2016, Facebook launched a campaign against fake news, some of which, presumably, also  bots.

Against the background of these problems, the actions of the Systrom look inconsistent. Spam and bots did not leave the Instagram, like other leading social platforms. The initiative of the founder of the service can entail major changes and change the culture of the Internet. But provided that he really has a clear plan.

In addition, Systrom swung at a difficult ethical point of view. Nobody likes spammers, but the ban on rude statements can put into question the freedom of speech in social networks. And cause outrage to users.

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