Mike Isaac

Recent Posts by Mike Isaac

Instagram, You’re at War With Twitter. Just Admit It.

Instagram and Twitter’s relationship has seen better days.

The photo-sharing service killed off some of its Twitter functionality on Wednesday morning, altering the way Instagram displays pictures in the Twitter stream. And not in a good way.

In a strictly business sense, the move is a no-brainer. Twitter is far and away the largest competitor to Facebook, now the parent company to Instagram. However ruthless, you can’t fault Instagram honcho Kevin Systrom for the move — just like we couldn’t fault Twitter for snipping Instagram’s “find your friends” feature back in July.

But Instagram isn’t positioning the move as a slap in Twitter’s face — which, in part, it is. Instead, Systrom says it’s more about Instagram putting more emphasis on its Web presence, which until recently has been lacking.

“We want to direct users to where the content lives originally,” Systrom said at the LeWeb conference in Paris on Wednesday. “Where do you go to interact with [an Instagram] image? We want that to be Instagram.com because that’s a better user experience.”

That’s totally fair. Instagram has every right to send folks to its own site.

But riddle me this, Mr. Systrom: Instagram exports photos to other platforms, too. Namely, Tumblr, Foursquare and Path.

When asked about this, Systrom gave what amounted to a non-answer: “We get a lot of traffic from Tumblr, and I would also say that the large majority of our photos are actually shared to Facebook and to Twitter. So this is more of a one-off trying to figure out specifically with our Twitter integration what it should look like. And we’ve just decided that right now what makes sense is to direct users to our new mobile interface.”

In other words, Instagram is doing this because it can.

It’s almost funny how passive-aggressive both companies have been in their dealings with one another. Instagram’s statement from the “find your friends” snafu read like so: “Twitter no longer allows its users to access this information in Instagram via the Twitter API. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Twitter isn’t innocent here, either. The company posted its own faux non-combative affront to Instagram on Wednesday: “Users are experiencing issues with viewing Instagram photos on Twitter. … This is due to Instagram disabling its Twitter cards integration, and as a result, photos are being displayed using a pre-cards experience. So, when users click on Tweets with an Instagram link, photos appear cropped.”

Look, I get it. Instagram wants its users to make Instagram.com and Facebook.com the place to see photos. Not Twitter, which has seen great user engagement benefits from Instagram photos appearing in the Twitter stream. And Twitter doesn’t want Instagram to benefit from its valuable interest graph.

But neither company is addressing the elephant in the room. This is also about eliminating any competitive advantage one platform has over another. No more free riding on the coattails of the other. This is business. This is Sun Tzu. This is war.

My proposal: Take the gloves off. Pull a Larry Ellison and make no bones about your moves, cutthroat or otherwise. Put it out there for all to see.

We may not like what you’re doing, but we’d at least respect you for being upfront about it.

Update: Here’s a clip on the topic from the Wall Street Journal’s “Digits” show today.


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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