On Wednesday, Twitter users noticed something strange when they tried to view tweeted Instagram photos. Images were oddly cropped and not displaying properly. "This is due to Instagram disabling its Twitter cards integration ... photos are being displayed using a pre-cards experience," Twitter explained via blog. A little while later, even the malformed images were gone. Photos tweeted from Instagram now just contain a link to ... Instagram.
The "cards" Twitter referenced in its explanation are those previews you see when you look at a tweet containing a link to a Web page or image. It's how you can see the photos hiding behind a link without having to leave the Twitter website. But after Wednesday, only Instagram links remained. Just like in olden times.
"When we first integrated with Twitter … it was just a link," Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom reminded TechCrunch's MG Siegler at the LeWeb Paris 2012 conference on Wednesday. "Over time, we realized that there was a need to see that photo. And when Twitter added cards, we had a minimal Web presence."
In April 2012, Instagram was acquired by Twitter's best frenemy, Facebook. By that point, the social photo service had realized it needed to build "an awesome Web presence" of its own, and the Facebook buy out and subsequent staffing-up enabled that. "We wanted to make sure to direct users to where the content lives originally," Systrom told Siegler. "To make sure that users on Instagram get the full experience of Instagram."
"We want you, and your photos, on our social network," is the silent message we are receiving — and not just from Instagram.
Twitter fired one of the first shots when, in late July, it rendered Instagram's "Find Your Friends" feature impotent by cutting off its API support. (This was very similar to what Facebook did to Twitter in June 2010.)
Facebook acquired Instagram and started adding photo filters to its own apps. Instagram built up its website and distanced itself from Twitter. According to All Things D's Mike Isaac, Twitter is now working to release a "series of photo filters to be used inside the official Twitter app."
In September, Google acquired Nik Software — the maker of powerful photo-editing app Snapseed, which, among other things, can quickly turn any smartphone snapshot into a retro-looking, vignetted relic a la Instagram. A few months later, Google senior vice president Vic Gundotra announced that Snapseed is no longer a paid, iOS-only tool. The app is now free, available on both iOS and Android, and updated to prominently feature its Google+ support.
Even the smaller players are getting the picture, so to speak. When Dave Morin, co-founder of photo-centric social network Path, sat down with NBC News in July, he proudly explained that his app has one of the fastest camera tools on the market. The meaning is clear: No matter how innovative, a social network can only be as popular as its pictures.
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