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OK Instagram, you want to play with the big boys? Here’s what you need to fix

instagram twitter storm

Well, that union didn’t last long. Twitter and Instagram have not only filed for divorce, they’re at it, waging an incredibly messy public battle that normally makes for the stuff of tabloids. A quick recap:

  • In November, Twitter announced it would debut its own photo filters. The report came as the platform continued to edge out third-party developers in favor of its own in-house products – some of which blatantly reproduced the apps they replaced.
  • Last week, Instagram pulled support for Twitter cards and said it wanted to keep the Instagram experience on Instagram. 
  • Last weekend, Instagram support for Twitter was pulled altogether.
  • Later today, as Instagram issued a major update, Twitter officially announced and introduced its photo filters feature for its mobile app.

Phew.

Things have gotten heated fast, and neither platform is coming out looking like the good guy. Twitter’s war on the same products that once helped it grow and succeed has given both spurned developers and users a bad taste in their mouths. It may make good business sense, but it’s still an inherently anti-competitive and anti-innovative thing to do. As a user, I don’t like it one bit.

In Twitter’s defense, we’ve been conditioned to expect this sort of thing. That’s not really the case with Instagram. The photo-sharing network has laid as low as possible, building a reputation for devotion to its users, constantly iterating, and sticking to its roots, even after being acquired by Facebook.

But all of a sudden, Instagram has gotten cutthroat. Surely, that Facebook acquisition has something to do with it: Twitter and Facebook are naturally rivals of this space. But that’s too obvious an explanation. More broadly, Instagram has started to act like a business. It has been making moves to improve its bottom line rather than its product, and make no mistake, that’s what that is.

CEO Kevin Systrom says that Instagram is working on “building an awesome Web presence,” a project that we’ve seen the beginnings of. But if in the process of creating said “awesome Web presence,” Instagram is also going to take away one of the most popular and intuitive ways to share and view images. The company had better start building fast, because there’s a lot of work left to do. Currently, 

There’s no intuitive way to browse. There is no way to view a news feed of Instagram photos on the Web. Right now, you can get links to individual images, or to a user’s Instagram profile. From these profiles, you can look through a person’s library, comment, or like a picture, but that’s it.

Users should have cover tile control. The Instagram version of the cover photo flickers random Instagram images in and out – and Instagram gets to decide what images are used. Suggestion, if I may: When you upload a photo to Instagram, you should be able to check a box that says “available for cover tiles.” Then any annoying photos you don’t want as your cover photo won’t show up there.

You can’t delete your own photos. It actually baffles my mind that you can’t do this from the Web. I understand that Web profiles exist for looking, not for doing – but it’s my content, it’s on the Internet, and you’re making me go to my phone if I want to get rid of it. Really? Really?

We should be able to see all the “likers.” This is small, but it drives me crazy. When I pull up a photo on the website, I can see the first six people who liked it – the rest are cut off and there’s no way to view them. You can see in the image below where this cut off is. 

likers exampleThere’s no way to share. Well, this might just be because Instagram isn’t too keen on sharing right now, but the Web interface lacks an option for sharing your own photos; not to Twitter, not to Facebook, not by email.

Still, Instagram should tread carefully. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it … er, in this case, if it mostly ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t add private messaging or in-line chatting. Don’t integrate an events feature, or (I could be alone on this) even let users upload and filter photos from their desktops.

I’m not advocating for a focus shift over at Instagram. It’s going to be difficult for what was very recently a mobile-only company to transition to both platforms without alienating everything it used to be. But that’s the only option left now, Instagram: You’ve bailed on one of the most popular, useful, and user-friendly social networks in the world. One that, when combined with what your platform does, has been an incredibly effective source during national disasters, presidential elections, and social upheavals. So you better get to work – because the job of social media is to connect people, and all this drama is doing just the opposite.