Instagram search engine Worldcam proves peril of platform dependence

A couple of days ago, two Swedish ad creatives called Per Stenius and Oskar Sundberg launched a new service called Worldcam, which acts as a geographical search engine for Instagram, using Foursquare for the location data.

Within a day, major tech publications such as Gizmodo and The Verge had picked up on it, rightly noting how much fun it is to check out the Instagrammed interiors of nearby buildings.

A terrific start for Worldcam, of course, except… this:

Worldcam wasn’t completely killed, but it did find itself going down roughly each hour, depending on the time of day. Sundberg and Stenius had hit the most fundamental quandary of the modern internet service.

“It’s both a really good thing and a bad thing about how internet technology works nowadays,” Sundberg told me today. “It opens up so much, but of course it also means your site is built on their platform, so you have to abide by their rules.”

Luckily for the Swedish pair, they found it pretty easy to get in touch with Foursquare, which increased Worldcam’s API limit tenfold as soon as they heard of the problems. Instagram has proved “harder to reach”, meaning they’re still stuck with the API limit of 5,000 requests an hour – a pretty low limit for a service that uses a few requests per page.

But for those wondering if Worldcam shouldn’t have checked out the landscape before going live, there are a couple of things to consider. First off, Worldcam isn’t a startup – these are two friends having fun with a side-project.

Secondly, they’ve been here before. Stenius and Sundberg were also behind a neat little tool called Is It Old?, which gave people a way to check if the link they were about to tweet had already been tweeted by someone else.

That tapped into Tweetmeme’s API, which in turn plugged into Twitter’s API. When Twitter decided to renounce its open nature in August, Is It Old? was one of several immediate casualties. Dead, just like that.

So it was hardly a surprise when similar trouble struck again. They knew what was going to happen. Indeed, Sundberg noted that Worldcam could get a higher API limit if it allowed an Instagram login, but said he didn’t want the service to require any login at all.

“It’s a luxury you have with doing it as a hobby,” he said. “If I was to dedicate my full time to something like this… I would recommend that you check those things before you build a business around it.”

There’s a reason why the smart startups are making themselves as platform-agnostic as possible. As for Worldcam, well, the service isn’t going to go away – indeed, they’re working on an app to accompany the web version – but it’s probably a good thing that the investment was limited to a little hobby time.