The Twitter-Instagram War: Why Everyone Wins

Analysis

 @redletterdave
on December 12 2012 5:00 PM

The divide between Facebook and Twitter continues to grow. Ever since Instagram went to Facebook in April, Kevin Systrom's photo-sharing app has been a pawn in the brewing war between the two California social media giants. Most recently, Instagram helped Facebook pull out the rug from under Twitter by disabling its photo integration API on that particular network.

Systrom mentioned the move for the first time last week at the Paris tech conference "Le Web." The Instagram CEO said the move to disable images wasn't planned for any other site besides Twitter.

"This is more of a one-off," Systrom said.

Last week's messy divorce was a long time coming. Since April, Twitter has provoked Instagram -- in July, it pulled the service's friend-finder function from the site -- and when Instagram decided to remove the code last week for creating perfectly framed "Instagram Cards" on Twitter, it was simply a matter of time before one of the two companies found the current agreement "unacceptable."

"We're working on building an awesome Web presence, which we just launched," Systrom said at Le Web. "We revamped our Web properties, and now we're able to staff up teams to work on Web properties with the Facebook acquisition."

One might think both Twitter and Instagram would lose out from a lack of cooperation. But in reality, this rough split might give both a real chance to shine on their own.

Why Twitter Wins

Who needs Instagram when you're already on Twitter? The microblogging site from San Francisco is one of the most popular social networks on the Web with 500+ million active users, but more important, the company already has its own integrated photo service. At least Twitter doesn't have to start from scratch with photos as Apple did with Maps.

Since 2011, Twitter users have been able to easily upload photos and attach them to Twitter, and iOS users can additionally upload photos as soon as they're taken, thanks to last year's deep integration in iOS 5. Instagram's departure was a blessing; it merely gave Twitter an opportunity to gain its own in-house feature some much-needed attention. 

On Monday, Twitter released an "F-you" disguised as a software update to iOS and Android users, which offers more photo filters for the first time. Twitter is smart to build within itself, and assuming Twitter continues on its trajectory, people will always seek out the network to show off their content, particularly their photos. If users feel like Instagram now adds too many in-between steps, Twitter's in-house solution seems like the obvious choice.

Why Instagram Wins

While Twitter's dig -- ahem, "Software Update" -- aimed at Instagram has a few nice nuances, including a "Bird's Eye View" that lets you see all of the possible filters at once, the filters simply aren't as numerous (18 vs. 8) or dynamic as Instagram's. Even Twitter's names are duller. "Warm," "Cool" and "Happy" simply got nothing on "Valencia," "Inkwell" and "Hefe."

Instagram is still working out the kinks -- the new site isn't quite polished yet, and losing integration with one of the biggest social networks always hurts -- but the service has a few things going for it. The niche audience is obviously one of them -- 100 million registered users ain't no slouch -- but the company also has Facebook to lean on, and the social media's company's presence is certainly visible at the new Instagram.com.

And that's the bottom line: Instagram.com is a chance for Kevin Systrom's company to grow as a multi-platform brand, even if that means cutting one platform loose for competitive reasons. Twitter may have been a help to Instagram, but Mark Zuckerberg is promising more in exchange for competing with Twitter rather than cooperating. Facebook has much to offer: It has the largest audience of any social network, a sizable amount of servers and technology, and a top-notch support team. Being a warrior for Facebook certainly has its perks.

Why Everyone Wins

At first, I was disheartened to hear of the Instagram-Twitter blowup. As Jack Nicholson would say, "Can't we all just get along?"

But then I remembered another quote: "Competition makes things better. Always." I don't remember who said it, but it could be Uncle Ben for all I care, it makes complete sense.

Cooperation and competition are powerful motivators. Facebook and Twitter utilize both of these methods simultaneously with their partners, sponsors and clients, but between these two, there is a competition over who has the best social experience. Facebook's winning with sheer user numbers, but Twitter's proving to be a more influential source of information, especially when it comes to getting news and updates.

A great photo experience is key to building the best social experience on the Web, and it was only a matter of time before Facebook threw its weight behind its $1 billion deal to buy Instagram, in essence to use that company as a strategic chip to undercut Twitter while growing and developing it under its wing. But when a shake-up like this happens and nobody dies, everyone only gets stronger. Instagram has emerged from the divorce a stronger platform and brand; Twitter will eventually recover its photo prowess, even though that filter update felt like a cheap rebound effort.

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