Who wins when Instagram and Twitter are publicly sparring?

Instagram and Twitter want everyone to stay inside their play pens, which are starting to feel like kennels.

Credit: Source: Greg L. photos on Flickr

Twitter is suffuse with links to photos hosted by Instagram, the popular photo sharing and sometimes filtering service acquired earlier this year by Facebook for $1 billion. And since Twitter introduced Twitter Cards over the summer, Instagram has been one of the best examples of why Cards were necessary, and how Cards might generate some actual revenue for Twitter. Your Instagram-using friend tweets out a photo, you click it, you see the photo in Twitter, and maybe you think about how nice it looks, and how easy it must be to post photos from Instagram.

But then, Tuesday night, Instagram photos started looking wonky when clicked in Twitter. Then the Twitter Status feed (which is hosted on a Tumblr, because we are all being forced to live virtually on the same block in Manhattan) reported that Instagram had "(disabled) its Twitter cards integration. This would seem to indicate that Instagram didn't give Twitter a lot of notice about their intentions, or at least that Twitter did not have a plan in place for a service dropping its value-added features.

Instagram founder Kevin Systrom told the crowd at the LeWeb conference that it wasn't a feud. Twitter just recently disabled Instagram's ability to find your friends, and Instagram wasn't responding to that. And it wasn't a result of Instagram's Facebook ownership. No, it was about Instagram guiding users and viewers to "where their content lives originally."

I know it's not that exciting when one person writing on the web agrees with some other persons writing on the web, but Matt Mullenweg and Mat Honan are entirely correct: they argue, we lose. (Mullenweg was technically speaking, but, regardless).

There is a base cynicism you can have about Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: their revenue comes from advertising, so their users are product, inventory. But it's more true that, in this particular miniature controversy, neither side is particularly aligned with anyone who lives outside their balance sheets. Instagram wants you to see Instagram photos on their web site, not through a Twitter preview. And they want you to join the service before they'll let anyone browse more than one photo from any one user. Twitter, similarly, doesn't want a property owned by Facebook, or any other tool for that matter, to make profitable use of its social graph. And Twitter would rather you not leave the confines of your stream to check things like Instagram photos out.

You can still use Instagram and Twitter for free, and have a fairly amazing reach with them, in some instances. But every time you see the word "discover" in their apps and their marketing, you should take it a bit less seriously, each time.

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