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Twitter vs. Instagram: It's all about monetization

Instagram and Twitter are looking to monetize their audiences, but it requires controlling the user experience, sometimes at the expense of the user.

Instagram and Twitter aren't at war. They just can't make money together.
Screenshot by Ben Parr/CNET

Ever since Instagram got a new friend in Facebook, the popular photo-sharing service has, slowly but surely, been distancing itself from its old pal Twitter.

Today's news is that Instagram photos no longer display correctly in Twitter. This is because Instagram has disabled its integration with Twitter Cards in favor of links that direct Twitter users directly to

"This is an evolution of where we want links to our content to go," Instagram's Kevin Systrom said of the change on stage at the LeWeb conference in Paris.

Instagram has been busy beefing up its Web presence, but why? Twitter has been pushing rich media cards and tightening its leash on developers. Why?

The answer (and the source of the tension between Twitter and Instagram) is simple: monetization.

Instagram has never ever, in its short history, displayed an ad or monetized its social network in any way. But did you really think that was going to last, regardless of whether Facebook acquired it? Instagram is a business, and at some point it has to make money.

In order to generate revenue, most likely from some type of innovative, image-based advertising network that must be bouncing around in Systrom's head, it has to control the page views and control the user experience. It's the exact same reason why Twitter has been throttling some of its most popular third-party apps -- it doesn't control the user experience on those apps, and thus it can't control how ads look and feel.

It's no surprise that both Twitter and Instagram have come to this conclusion. This is why Twitter has been pushing its Cards feature -- rich media ads simply make more money. And this is why Instagram has decided to shun Cards in favor of its own Web site. Instagram will never be able to serve ads on -- it's as simple as that.

I believe Systrom when he says Instagram and Twitter have a great relationship. It's clear though that their paths now must diverge if either is going to become profitable. It isn't always what's best for the user, but it is what's best for each of their businesses.

It's not personal. It's just business.