The popular photo-sharing app Instagram on Wednesday confirmed it pulled support for a sharing feature on another social network, Twitter, resulting in Instagram photos appearing cropped or improperly displayed when posted to Twitter.
Soon, those photos will disappear entirely from Twitter and be replaced with links, as the company confirmed, though users will still be able to post links to Instagram photos to Twitter.
But Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom defended the decision at the LeWeb conference in Paris, France on Wednesday, saying it was designed to actually improve the Instagram experience by directing users to Instagram’s official website.
“It’s just about ‘where do you want to go to consume that image?’ ‘Where do you go to interact with that image?’” Systrom asked rhetorically. “We want that to be on Instagram.com, because we think that that’s a better experience.”
Here’s the official LeWeb video of Systrom’s live interview with tech columnist M.G. Siegler:
Later, Systrom issued a press statement to reporters on the move, noting that Instagram had steadily improved its website over the course of 2012, with the major update — full Web profiles for its users, a big deal given Instagram’s entire success was built on being a mobile-only app — coming in early November. As Systrom’s statement read:
We are currently working on building the best experience for Instagram users. A handful of months ago, we supported Twitter Cards because we had a minimal web presence. We’ve since launched several improvements to our website that allow users to directly engage with Instagram content through likes, comments, hashtags and now we believe the best experience is for us to link back to where the content lives. We will continue to evaluate how to improve the experience with Twitter and Instagram photos. As has been the case, Instagram users will continue to be able to share to Twitter as they originally did before the Twitter Cards implementation.
As dispassionate as Systrom claimed the move was, it came after a number of incidents of friction between the two companies and other drastic actions on their part to control their various products and user content.
In June, Twitter pulled support for Instagram’s “Find Friends” feature, which allowed users of both social networks to link their accounts on each and search for their Twitter contacts’ Instagram accounts.
At LeWeb on Monday, Systrom told his interviewer M.G. Siegler that this was not a cause of the decision to pull Instagram’s support for full photo display in Twitter.
“It’s definitely not retribution for anything like that,” Systrom said.
Instagram, which accepted an acquisition offer from Facebook in April then worth $1 billion, and which officially became part of Facebook in September, moving all of its employees to Facebook’s Palo Alto headquarters, was also previously reportedly courted for acquisition by Twitter, according to The New York Times.
The Times further noted that around the time of the Facebook acquisition deal, Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey, once a prolific Instagram user, stopped using the app entirely. Systrom claimed Dorsey’s defection was no big deal at LeWeb on Wednesday.
“That’s okay, I have family members who don’t use Instagram,” Systrom said.
Still, in pitting the two social networks against each other to secure more users on mobile devices and, perhaps more importantly, monetize their mobile products through advertising, Instagram and Twitter’s break-up is indicative of several key trends going forward:
1. Facebook and Instagram are going to be more closely wound together
At LeWeb, Systrom attempted to dispel notions that Facebook would completely subsume Instagram, noting that the decision to disable the full Twitter display feature was “definitely coming from me,” not from Facebook executives or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“Instagram exists outside Facebook application for very good reasons,” Systrom said, pointing to the fact that it allowed users to quickly access the one feature they wanted- photo sharing — in the same way Facebook’s separate Messenger app allows users to simply send texts through the network.
But Systrom also pointed out that as a consequence of the acquisition, Facebook was now able to automatically detect and display “Likes,” hashtags and comments of simultaneous Instagram and Facebook account holders on Facebook (when users are signed into both).
2. Not everyone is going to adopt Twitter’s Cards feature
The official name of the Twitter feature that Instagram dropped support for is “Twitter Cards,” which refers to the added level of information and multimedia that Twitter added to tweets beginning in June.
Initially restricted to several major media companies, such as The New York Times, other developers and publishing outfits cried foul and requested that Twitter allow them to use the feature to display more information from their links to posts in tweets. Twitter subsequently opened Cards to everyone, but as Instagram has shown, that doesn’t mean everyone is on board with the feature.
“I think not many people know what Twitter Cards are, it’s a hard concept to understand,” Systrom said during his LeWeb interview.
3. Social networks will use each other when it is convenient for them to do so, not necessarily for their users
In another instance of quirky but oddly telling timing, Facebook on Wednesday also renamed its “Subscribe” feature “Follow,” the verb that Twitter chose to use when users select other accounts they wish to add to their contacts list on the network.
The Subscription feature, initially rolled out by Facebook in September 2011, was immediately compared to Twitter, as it enabled something Facebook previously lacked: One-way following relationships. Previously, Facebook users had to “Friend” each other, and thus agree to see each other’s updates (at least until later hiding an unwanted user’s posts from their Newsfeeds). The subscription feature allowed major celebrities and notable figures to have people see each of their public updates without affirmatively accepting any of the other broader information sharing that occurs when two users “Friend” each other on Facebook.
But now Facebook has deliberately chosen to alter its language to more closely resemble Twitter, and on the same day that its subsidiary Instagram moved to partially block Twitter. It is difficult not to see the move as a passive-aggressive swipe, even if completely coincidental.
Facebook explained to TPM in a statement that the “Subscriptions” tab would also be changed to read “Following,” another verb more closely associated with Twitter’s interactions.
On the flip side, Twitter itself is reportedly going to be introducing a feature that seems, if not directly inspired by Instagram, designed to compete with it: Colored photo filters, as The New York Times reported in early November.
4. Advertising seems to remain the sticking point when it comes to social integration
Twitter has had success in selling and getting users to click on mobile advertisements, in some ways beyond even what Facebook has achieved so far, as The Wall Street Journal reported in June.
Instagram, which has remained officially ad-free for the time-being, may soon get targeted mobile advertisements per a tweak in Facebook’s proposed new Data Use Policy that allows Facebook to gather, combine and use information from users across all of its products.
Ultimately, even if there were no punitive or personal motives driving Instagram’s maneuver to cut-off some access to Twitter on Wednesday, it just made good business sense: Why should Twitter be allowed to sell advertising against Instagram’s user content, where Instagram and parent company Facebook are not benefitting?
As stated by Systrom, the aim of keeping Instagram’s full experience off Twitter is to drive more users to the Instagram website, which presumably, in the future, Facebook and Instagram could use to sell ads.