This week, Instagram fanned the flames of its “fight” with Twitter when it pulled the ability for its photos to display in full on Twitter’s network. Technically, this meant that images pushed from Instagram would appear cropped since Twitter card integration was pulled. The support briefly came back today, but has since been “turned off,” and Instagram has made a statement reaffirming the fact that it will no longer use Twitter cards.
What it all really means is there’s some bad blood between these companies. Last month, word broke that Twitter was planning its own in-house photo filter feature, essentially edging out – or trying to edge out – Instagram. It’s become a typical Twitter move: Foster an outside app or feature and then undercut the developer with its own version. Of course, things aren’t going to go quite that way this time because Instagram has rewritten the rules of photo sharing and won’t fall victim to this power grab.
The reason Twitter wants to do this is because it wants eyeballs on its site and nowhere else. A series of sweeping moves on the microblogging site’s part within the last year have been motivated by this very thing. The experience needs to stay on Twitter’s proprietary site because that’s where it sells ad space and that’s where it makes money.
At LeWeb, CEO and founder Kevin Systrom explained that Instagram wants the same thing as Twitter. “Really it’s about where do you go to consume that image, to interact with that image,” Systrom said. “We want that to be on Instagram.”
So now the power struggle for Instagram’s leverage is playing out in front of us and hurting users in the process. Twitter cards make it so images are embedded in full within a tweet, giving you complete and accurate access to the attachment content. Now, in order to see Instagram images tweeted out, you’ll hit the link and jump to Instagram’s site. Is that a lot of work? No. Is it in the user’s best interest? Not a chance. This is a business move, plain and simple, and Systrom has described it as nothing else.
While it’s not encouraging that a struggle over user-created content and data is punishing those very users with a subpar experience, it also means we have something to look forward to from Instagram. The network has been tip-toeing very carefully into embracing the Web, going from mobile-only to recently launching profiles and basic commenting features. The fact that Instagram isn’t willing to give Twitter full access to its images is indicative that the team isn’t done building for the Web – or at least it had better not be. If you’re going to take something away from us, you better be prepared to replace it.
Really, this whole mess shows us three things. First, that Twitter is hell-bent on controlling and monetizing its platform. There’s a sort of “my way or the highway” attitude here, and no one – not even Instagram, one of the fastest growing communities out there – is safe from it. Second, that not everyone is going to stand for it. Companies have been buckling under Twitter’s pressure left and right, but Instagram, which gets a lot of traffic from Twitter, simply isn’t having it. Third, Instagram isn’t done yet. Sure, it might have been acquired by Facebook and it might have only made half-hearted attempts at a Web presence, but clearly they are thinking bigger picture (pun intended) here.
Unfortunately, users are caught in the crosshairs – again.