Likely Disruption for Photonic Users with Instagram Galleries

It has been a while since I have posted here!

Over the past few months a combination of factors have kept me from posting an update to Photonic – pressures at work, complexity of updates etc. However, there was one big-ticket item that needed doing – an Instagram API update.

For the lack of features in what it offers, Instagram is one platform that is very challenging to build for. Historically they once changed their API in 2016, when they moved from user-specific API keys to having app approvals from developers. This was something I was never able to resolve in my favour – they simply refused to grant Photonic access to public content such as hashtags. Moreover, the simplest of things were always a pain – getting a user id, getting the sizes of images and videos etc.

A few years later they decided to move to the Facebook Graph API… but for a long time only allowed businesses to access the API. To apply for the API I would have to literally register a business at an address, get a business license and then apply for permission to use the API – that was a non-starter for me with Photonic. Eventually they made a stripped down version (called the “Instagram Basic Display API”) available to individual users, while notifying us that the legacy API will cease to be available from March 30th. I jumped on this and started migrating Photonic’s functionality to the new API. Facebook’s rules state that even if an app is approved for use with one version of the API, you have to resubmit it when you are switching to the new version. I finished all development and submitted the app for approval on 12th March. Interestingly, Facebook’s approval process now requires two things:

  1. An app approval – this requires a screencast for how the app is using specific features; this is where I was never able to get hashtag approval
  2. An individual / business verification – this pretty much requires me to sign a contract and submit a government-issued form of identification. Facebook is unique in this regard, as no other provider requires submission of personal details

Promptly enough (within 6 hours), point #1 came back as “Not approved”, stating that they were unable to log in as a part of the testing process (though all documentation was present in the screencasts). Since the app was working, I resubmitted my screencasts and code without changes, but explicitly wrote down all instructions. This time the response took a few days, but to my pleasant surprise the app was “Approved”.

And that is when point #2 tripped me up. The verification is supposed to take 2-3 days according to FB, and here I was at close to 2 weeks without an update. All of a sudden a rather dismaying note popped up in the review screen on 24th March:

An unexpected side-effect of Coronavirus!

So, with 5 days remaining for the sunset of the old API, I am stuck in a limbo where all my development is done, and my app is approved, but they have de-prioritized the verification of my being an individual! I never knew that my humorous quips (“Contrary to popular opinion I am a human!”) would look me in the face with a sardonic grin! Sadly, though, the problems of the world right now are a lot more severe than an application approval happening on time, so I fully respect FB’s decision to divert their resources to other activities. I just wish that they would have granted an extension on the life of the legacy API for such cases!

At this point I am left with an unfortunate message to deliver – it is extremely unlikely that they will complete my verification by 30th March. So, to avoid disruption, please switch your sites to use a different plugin for displaying Instagram galleries. You will lose Photonic’s flexibility with lightboxes and layouts, but your more fundamental challenge of displaying your Instagram galleries would be met. I have documented this on the WordPress support forum as well.

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