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All those mobile photos now belong to Facebook as the social networking giant snaps up its rapidly expanding rival, which started as a touch-up and share service, and became a social network in its own right.

The Future is Truly Mobile

If you want to know how much of our digital future will be mobile-based, Facebook's just-signed purchase of iOS and Android photo service Instagram should give you a pretty good idea. The US$1 billion in stock and cash deal was announced on Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook page.

Before those who live on Twitter, Google+ and other social media services get upset, there's no immediate need to panic as Zuck promises:

"... 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."

Instagram's massive smartphone user base must be outstripping the more mature Facebook's own growth rates, and this signals a likely wave of consolidation as social sites add new services to their offerings. Or as one Twitter user put it, "Facebook just spent how much on a bunch of image filters?"

Bring on the Clones

However, now that Facebook has its hooks into Instagram, it can become an important part in the company's power-broking on smartphones, social media services and other areas, as the giant looks to remain at the forefront of social media, where it is threatened by a number of diverging competitors.

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The iOS Instagram app has over 30 million users

Ultimately, Facebook gets access to millions of iOS (and the couple of million Android users who downloaded the app on its recent debut with Google's mobile system) users who are keen on sharing their snaps. It is also a lot easier to use Instagram for photos than it is to use the Facebook smartphone app.

While this is great news for Instagram's small team, it will spur the many clone apps to even greater efforts, as the likes of Google (who were rumored to be looking to buy Instagram at one point) and other companies will be looking to ensure they have a comparable app or feature to go alongside their social or other service.