Twitter, please – no way, no how can you take on Instagram

twitter, pleaseYesterday afternoon, when word broke that Twitter is working on its own Instagram-copycat, I think the rest of the tech world shared in my deja vu. In August of last year, the exact same story surfaced — just replace “Twitter” with “Facebook.”

Just like Twitter is finding out now, Facebook knew the power Instagram was able to wield. It saw how the app was mobile only, and how that was working. It saw how the user base was incredibly loyal and incredibly active. It saw that photo-sharing was hitting the big time, fast, and that it’s own mobile photo features needed some work (you still can’t upload a batch of photos at once in the Facebook proprietary app for god’s sake). 

The standalone Facebook Camera app, released this summer, definitely stole some spotlight. Given the fact that a month earlier Facebook had up and bought Instagram made the debut less threatening, but nonetheless, the social network was taking cues.

But Camera is no Instagram — we knew that then and we know that now. Th photo quality doesn’t compare; images are fuzzier, more pixelated, fairly blown out. The interface is meant primarily for pushing photos to Facebook, so there isn’t much in-app interaction. It’s a utility, and it’s fine, but it’s nothing to woo users away (which, again, doesn’t really matter since Facebook owns Instagram).

This should serve as a bit of a warning for Twitter: Facebook put something out there, and the users didn’t bite. Just take a look at what Monthly Active Users and Daily Active Users numbers are doing (via AppStats):

facebook camera mau dau chart

 Instagram, on the other hand, can’t be stopped:

instagram app stats

There’s something about this app that people don’t get sick of, that despite any user complaints (which, for a widely-used social network, are remarkably few), everyone keeps coming back and new users keep joining.  

Instagram is untouchable, and Twitter should know that by now. This is part of the territorial push Twitter’s been making since announcing its new API restrictions. Everything under one roof, all eyes on our page, keep the advertisers happy and paying. It’s a smart business move, without a doubt, and there are assuredly some fringe third party clients that were so close to Twitter’s core that you can’t fault the company for shutting them down.

But things have been taken further, with image and video-sharing services getting the heave ho. And Instagram, absolutely, is stealing eyes away from Twitter. You see an Instagram image in the Twitter feed, you hit that drop down, you click that image and boom — you’re out of Twitter and on the Instagram Web viewer.

That’s a problem for Twitter: The network might have more total users, but when it comes to mobile reach, Instagram is winning.

When Twitter’s API bust started, it was reasoned there were a few outside services it wouldn’t cut off total access to because they had big enough user numbers that they were still useful for Twitter, and Facebook and Instagram were among them. Clearly, Twitter is feeling the pressure and has decided, aw hell, we’ll make our own Instagram!

But they won’t. You can’t just create a photo upload app, throw in some filters, and call it a day. Instagram was the right thing at the right time and it won the photo-sharing genre. Everybody can just go home.

And can’t that be okay? Twitter, you’re not a photo-sharing network. You’re this part-newswire-part-idle-chatter facilitator that has proven its worth time and time again. Social networks don’t need to be all things — you don’t see Instagram trying to introduce a microblogging function or private messaging or face-tagging or brand specific pages.

It won’t matter. Twitter can create a photo upload service with all the filters in the world, and we’re still going to hit that Instagram image and bounce out. Maybe fewer of us, maybe not as often, and perhaps that minor victory means Twitter can reel off some slightly better numbers during ad sales that will help them close new deals, in which case, this was worth it.

But if anyone actually thinks we’ve got an Instagram threat on our hands and that the application’s presence on Twitter is done for, you could not be more wrong. Keep the bar of expectations low, Twitter.