2012 YEARENDER: Facebook, Twitter, and the war for photographs

Victor Barreiro Jr.
In 2012, Instagram grew to become the center of controversy in a brewing conflict between Facebook and Twitter

THE ACQUISITION. Everything started when Facebook purchased Instagram.

MANILA, Philippines – As social media websites go, Facebook and Twitter are perhaps two of the most well-known at present. With millions of users between them, and the potential for expansion readily available for both services, there seems to be no mistaking the pervasiveness of both as part of the social media landscape.

Between the expansion of the two services, however, is a vast market of potential profit that has become an ongoing narrative in the lives of many Internet-savvy people. One of those services, called Instagram, became the center of a new conflict for social media users worldwide.

This “war for photographs” was a conflict born from social media users’ desire to have more in their daily experiences, and is one of 2012’s most interesting developing technology stories. 

The acquisition

The conflict began with a seemingly harmless act. Facebook announced on April 9 (US time) that it had purchased photo-sharing application Instagram for US$1 billion.

On the announcement of the acquisition, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, discussed how Instagram’s connectivity to things beyond Facebook was part of its success. He said, “We think the fact that Instagram is connected to other services beyond Facebook is an important part of the experience. We plan on keeping features like the ability to post to other social networks, the ability to not share your Instagrams on Facebook if you want, and the ability to have followers and follow people separately from your friends on Facebook.”

Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s co-founder, also mentioned their plans for growing Instagram. He explained that Instagram was not going away and added, “We’ll be working with Facebook to evolve Instagram and build the network. We’ll continue to add new features to the product and find new ways to create a better mobile photos experience.”

Fans of the service were less than enthused about Facebook buying Instagram. A report mentioned how only 12% of 201,000 relevant Twitter mentions of the acquisition were positive. By comparison, 10% felt “disgust” at the takeover, and 10% vowed to quit the service.

BREAKING CARDS. Instagram kills Twitter card support in early December.

The conflict escalates

For the next few months, while Facebook and Instagram were getting to know one another after the acquisition completed, everything was relatively quiet. People could use Instagram in peace on various social networks, such as Twitter, without much trouble. Facebook snatching up Instagram did little to affect the status quo, and perhaps even contributed to Instagram’s rollout of web profiles for users.

In December, however, things changed, and some would say the situation soured quickly.

On December 6, Instagram quietly disabled integration with Twitter cards. Twitter cards allowed websites and services to show previews of their content on Twitter itself when a user expands a tweet. Twitter cards integration allowed users to easily see content, such as Instagram photos, without needing to visit the actual originating site.

Contrary to Systrom’s earlier statement above, he explained the change, saying, “We’ve decided that right now, what makes sense, is to direct our users to the Instagram Web site. Obviously things change as a company evolves.” While it made sense from a business point of view to direct people to Instagram and away from a competitor of Facebook, Instagram likely took a public relations hit with the change.

Twitter used Instagram’s pre-emptive strike as a warning that dark days were coming for photos, setting up photo filters and editing capabilities on their Android and iOS applications just in time for the next shot to be fired.

Less than a week later, Instagram completely killed Twitter cards support, focing people to click links to visit Instagram to see the photos others had posted or use browser workarounds like InstaTwit to see the content without leaving the Twitter homepage.

BY ITSELF. INstagram further alienated itself from its user base by proposing ill-worded changes to its guidelines.

Changes in Instagram

The year ended with less of a bang and more of a whimper, as Instagram’s bad PR was slowly eating at their marketability as a service.

Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s Vice President for global marketing solutions, said that the company was going to “figure out a way to monetize Instagram.” While such a move was expected, the statement was connected to Everson’s position as chief of ad sales, implying advertisements were going to become a means of monetization.

This idea was not helped by a later announcement, where Instagram announced upcoming updates to the service’s privacy policies and terms of service that sounded as if deceptive practices were underway to make it such that ads were not going to be called such, and that people in photos may be put in ads without their permission, among other things. While Systrom did clarify and eventually reverted the guidelines back to their original write-up, the reputation hit remained.

Currently, Instagram is being sued in Southern California over the contract changes, with the complaint stating that “The purported concessions by Instagram in its press release and final version of the new terms were nothing more than a public relations campaign to address public discontent.”

As a developing story, Rappler readers will want to go and take note of how this story has progressed.

Once a hero of social media, Instagram as a service has had its reputation frowned upon, with an aftereffect being that the resulting changes further soured people’s view of Facebook as a corporate entity. While Twitter itself doesn’t yet have its own means of regaining the robustness of its photo-sharing capabilities, it still maintains a relatively healthy opinion in the social media landscape.

Here’s to hoping 2013 will be a better, less frustrating year for all concerned, social media services and users alike. – Rappler.com

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.