Instagram is one of the most used applications on my iPhone. So I was happy to see Apple pick them as iPhone App Of The Year for 2011.
Nate Bolt at TechCrunch boils down Instagram’s popularity to quality, audience and constraints (via Working Title).
So it pained me to read news like this one at CNet (via The Brooks Review):

“I think the advertising experience is going to be extremely engaging,” Systrom said. “It’s much harder with text,” but Instagram offers photos, and brand names such as Audi, Kate Spade, and Burberry have joined Instagram.

The optimistic and delusional side of my brain read the CNet article in the context of the Android version of Instagram they’re working on. Having advertisements on Android is a natural thing – it’s how Google pays the bills. And it’s how Google encourages developers to pay their bills. But there’s other ways to pay the bills.
Right now Instagram is free. Maybe hindsight tells us even just charging $.99 would have been better than giving it away. Maybe charging for Instagram would have also prevented it’s rise in popularity. Maybe not.
My hope is that Instagram will figure out a classy way to integrate advertising that doesn’t disrupt the experience. Even better, offer a premium, ad-free version. I’d be willing to pay and I bet many others would be too.