Hey, Twitter: Copying Instagram Won't Work

The New York Times is reporting that Twitter plans to update its mobile apps with Instagram-like photo filters in the coming months. The goal is to get Twitter users to bypass Instagram entirely, instead of sharing Instagram photos out to Twitter.

But if the plan is real, it's a waste of Twitter’s energy. And it’s yet another sad sign of Twitter walling itself off instead of collaborating.

What If Twitter Was The World's Best Instagram Client?

Instead, imagine if Twitter was the best Instagram client in the world. If people connected their Instagram and Twitter accounts, they would be able to easily follow all the same people in both places (which they already could before Twitter cut off the feature in July).

You could tweet a picture with a particular hashtag and push it to Instagram. Pictures shared from Instagram would be accessible and shareable everywhere, not just on smartphones, and favoriting or replying to an Instagram tweet would automatically push the Like and comment to Instagram. If Twitter was that good of an Instagram app, the competition would push Instagram to be even better, and we’d all gain from it.

But that’s not the world we live in. Instead, these social networks have built their businesses around boxing each other out. Facebook snatched up Instagram, a very smart and expensive move, and now Twitter has cut off Instagram’s access to the follow graph and may be going it alone with its own cheesy photo filters.

Facebook did not drop $715 million on Instagram because of the photo filters. It spent the cash to own the network of people on the service. Instagram’s graph of relationships is based on interests. Its users follow the people whose feeds interest them, whether they follow back or not. It’s a rich picture of what people like, and Facebook needs that. It also didn’t want Twitter to get it.

Facebook networks grow in slower, less dynamic ways because each friend request requires both people to approve. Twitter’s asymmetrical following model turned out to be its most important difference from Facebook. While Facebook’s social graph provides a clear picture of people’s real-world relationships, Twitter’s one-way subscribing model shows their interests.

Twitter Is Jealous Of Instagram

Instagram works like Twitter, but it’s visual instead of textual. People love it. They share their view of the world there, and like-minded people find their visions and appreciate them. Twitter’s getting jealous, and now it wants to replace Instagram.

But it will do so with inferior apps and an increasingly bizarre interface that wants to be all things to all people. With none of the intimacy of Instagram, Twitter’s copycat effort can’t help but be lame in comparison.

But hey, maybe the New York Times’ unnamed sources at Twitter will have a change of heart and learn to get along with their competitors. But based on how Twitter's been acting lately, this move makes perfect sense for them.

Photo by Jon Mitchell.