Mike Isaac

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With Facebook Acquisition Looming, Twitter Tightens Instagram API Access

Instagram users can no longer access the app’s “Find Friends on Twitter” feature, a result from a change in Twitter’s API restrictions for the photo-sharing application.

While Instagram users can still tweet their photos out to their Twitter streams, they can no longer use the feature to add those they already follow on Twitter to their Instagram account.

Why? It could be because of an old beef with Facebook.

If you’ll recall, Facebook blocked Twitter’s API access way back in 2010, when Twitter created its own “Find Your Friends” feature to help users follow their existing Facebook friends on Twitter. Though the Face-tagram acquisition has yet to even close, it could be that Twitter is preparing for what may be inevitable — the day when Instagram becomes a part of Facebook.

The restrictions also come in the wake of a controversial recent blog post from product VP Michael Sippey, broadly sketching a future Twitter where its API will look much different than it does today. “In the coming weeks,” Sippey wrote, “we will be introducing stricter guidelines around how the Twitter API is used.”

But while that note foretells of a sweeping API sea change, the Instagram smackdown portends of something much more targeted, a slap back at its major competitor.

Twitter’s official response was effusive, yet blunt: “We understand that there’s great value associated with Twitter’s follow graph data, and we can confirm that it is no longer available within Instagram,” a spokesperson told me in a statement.

Think about it in terms of Twitter’s conspicuous “value” comment: What is Twitter giving away to Instagram, a potential future competitor, in this instance? Something as simple as boosting engagement inside of Instagram by using Twitter’s API to onboard followers may not be quantifiable “value” in terms of dollars, but it is valuable, for certain.

Facebook had no comment, as indeed the deal has not gone through yet. Instagram, too, had no comment.

The pawn in all of this — albeit a massively popular, extremely valuable pawn — is Instagram, which must suffer a reduced feature set while waiting in limbo for the Facebook purchase to go through. That’s probably why, instead of sweeping the loss of the “Find Your Friends” feature under the rug, Instagram made it a point to deliver a prompt to users, letting them know exactly what they lost:

“Twitter no longer allows its users to access this information in Instagram via the Twitter API,” the prompt states. “We apologize for any inconvenience.”

It’s basically Instagram waving a giant middle finger back in Twitter’s face, making Twitter look like the bad guy.

The real loser here? The unassuming new Instagram user, who won’t be able to take advantage of the feature.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work