SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc's recently acquired photo-sharing service, Instagram, removed a key element of its integration with Twitter, signaling a deepening rift between two of the Web's dominant social media companies.
Instagram's Chief Executive Kevin Systrom said Wednesday his company turned off support for Twitter "cards" in order to drive Twitter users to Instagram's own website. Twitter "cards" are a feature that allows multimedia content like YouTube videos and Instagram photos to be embedded and viewed directly within a Twitter message.
Instagram's move marked the latest clash between Facebook and Twitter since April, when Facebook, the world's no. 1 social network, outbid Twitter to nab fast-growing Instagram in a cash-and-stock deal valued at the time at $1 billion. The acquisition closed in September for roughly $715 million, due to Facebook's recent stock drop.
The companies' ties have been strained since. In July, Twitter blocked Instagram from using its data to help new Instagram users find friends.
Beginning earlier this week, Twitter's users began to complain in public messages that Instagram photos did not seem to display properly on Twitter's website.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom confirmed Wednesday that his company had decided that its users should view photos on Instagram's own Web pages and took steps to change its policies.
"We believe the best experience is for us to link back to where the content lives," Systrom said in a statement, citing recent improvements to Instagram's website.
"A handful of months ago, we supported Twitter cards because we had a minimal web presence," Systrom said, noting that the company has since released new features that allow users to comment about and "like" photos directly on Instagram's website.
The move escalates a rivalry in the fast-growing social networking sector, where the biggest players have sought to wall off access to content from rival services and to their ranks of users. Photos are among the most popular features on both Facebook and Twitter, and Instagram's meteoric rise in recent years has further proved how picture-sharing has become a key front in the battle for social Internet supremacy.
Instagram, which has 100 million users, allows consumers to tweak the photos they take on their smartphones and share the images with their friends, a feature that Twitter has reportedly also begun to develop. Twitter's executive chairman Jack Dorsey was an investor in Instagram and hoped to acquire it before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tabled a successful bid.
When Zuckerberg announced the acquisition in an April blog post, he said one of Instagram's strengths was its inter-connectivity with other social networks and pledged to continue running it as an independent service.
"We think the fact that Instagram is connected to other services beyond Facebook is an important part of the experience," Zuckerberg wrote. "We plan on keeping features like the ability to post to other social networks."
A Twitter spokesman declined comment Wednesday, but a status message on Twitter's website confirmed that users are "experiencing issues," such as "cropped images" when viewing Instagram photos on Twitter.
Systrom noted that Instagram users will be able to "continue to be able to share to Twitter as they originally did before the Twitter Cards implementation."
(Reporting By Alexei Oreskovic and Gerry Shih; Editing by Nick Zieminski)
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