The New York Post, knowing sensationalism like no other, wrote an article Friday about Instagram that must have sent jitters through the folks in Facebook's California offices.
Citing data from App Data, a firm that tracks the popularity of Facebook, iPhone and Android apps, the Post wrote that the photo-sharing app shed 4 million active daily users during the week it announced its controversial new Terms of Service.
"The app, which Facebook acquired for $1 billion earlier this year, may have shed nearly a quarter of its daily active users in the wake of the debacle," according to the Post.
Twenty-five percent is a steep and scary decline. But should we believe it? Observers at many prominent tech blogs, including TechCrunch, Gizmodo and The Verge, are pushing back against claim that the dip in Data App's data is due to an exodus of users afraid that their photos will now be sold off.
Obviously, Instagram is denying the decline, too. "We continue to see strong and steady growth in both registered and active users of Instagram," a spokesperson told The Verge.
Indeed, as nice of a tool as App Data is, its analysis is incomplete because it includes only Instagram members that have connected their accounts to Facebook. While App Data is reporting that it the number of Instagram users it observes dropped from 16.4 million to 12.4 million, these figures represent only a fraction of Instagram's total users, which numbered over 100 million in September 2012.
Furthermore, the decline isn't really aligned with the date Instagram's new rules were unveiled, Dec. 17. "Though the terms of service change spurred a lot of negative media attention and complaints from users, the decline in Facebook-connected daily active users began closer to Christmas, not immediately after the proposed policy changes," App Data itself told The Wall Street Journal.
A 24.7-percent drop between Dec. 17 and Dec. 27!
Therein lies the strongest piece of evidence that the decline doesn't have much to do with the new rules. Many other Internet services had fewer people log in during the days leading up to Christmas. App Data notes dropoffs in usership at Pandora, Pinterest and Yelp during Christmas week, as well. The same appears to have happened at Twitter, too, and The Next Web runs down similar holiday dropoffs at other companies. The celebration of the birth of Jesus (and associated end-of-year get-togethers) seems to be one of the only things capable of pulling people away from their computers and smartphones.
Here are those four other Christmastime drops in daily visitors. The percentage decrease in daily active users is from Dec. 17 to Dec. 27, the time period the Post analyzed for Instagram. Suddenly, it doesn't look like Instagram has been left out in the cold by users on Christmas.
Twitter, a 21.6-percent decrease
Pandora, a 36.9-percent decrease
Yelp, a 34.2-percent decrease
Pinterest, a 21.6-percent decrease