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Instagram gives Twitter a taste of its own medicine

Row between networks heightens as Instagram disables Twitter cards integration

The 'social' web has taken another step towards becoming the 'dysfunctional family' web, with the news Instagram just gave Twitter a bloody nose while simultaneously worsening user experience. On December 5, Twitter responded to support requests regarding "issues with viewing Instagram photos on Twitter," including cropped images. It said: "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."

The New York Times subsequently confirmed this was intentional, not a bug. Quoting Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, speaking at the LeWeb technology conference, it was stated the company in fact plans to "completely cut off embedding pictures" on Twitter. Instagram users will still be able to tweet on posting, but clicks will then take them from Twitter to Instagram to view the image. Interestingly, Systrom added photos posted through other services, such as Facebook (which now owns Instagram), Tumblr and Foursquare, won't be affected.

API fanatic and start-up advisor John Sheehan remarked on Twitter: "I hope everyone follows Instagram's lead and drops support for Twitter cards. They don't support you; don't support them." This referred to Twitter's change in direction during 2012 (as outlined by Dalton Caldwell in Twitter is pivoting), which has resulted in the company gradually shutting off access to its API and social graph, unless those companies directly benefit Twitter itself.

In the case of Instagram, this might not merely be a tit-for-tat exchange, but also a pre-emptive strike, in case rumours turn out to be true regarding Twitter introducing photo filters. Indeed, further Systrom quotes in Buzzfeed's report largely confirmed this to be the case, with Instagram bolstering its traffic and social network: "It's just about where you go to consume that image... and we want that to be on Instagram.com." Sheehan thought this was the right step: "I think retaliation is just a bonus. Increasing traffic is much more valuable."

However, iMore editor Rene Ritchie on Twitter seemed less convinced: "Twitter doesn't want eyeballs on third-party clients. Instagram doesn't want eyeballs on Twitter. No one cares what the eyeballs want." In other words, rival services are now treading on each other's toes, siloing their output and being anything but integrated social networks, to the detriment of users. Whether this trend continues remains to be seen, but from a promising and relatively open position just a couple of years ago, the social web looks likely to continue descending into a vicious land-grab that pays scant regard to what users really want.

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