Instagram and Twitter: It's complicated

Will the popular photo app ever reconcile with its one-time friend? The odds are slim as both aim to be a platform for in-the-now messages.

Jennifer Van Grove Former Senior Writer / News
Jennifer Van Grove covered the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.
Jennifer Van Grove
2 min read
instagram kevin systrom
Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom speaks at GigaOm Roadmap conference in San Francisco. Screenshot/Jennifer Van Grove/CNET

Not content with Instagram's reputation as a photography app, co-founder Kevin Systrom Wednesday made the case for the service as a communications platform. His statements position the Facebook-owned app as a direct rival to Twitter, which will make its public market debut on Thursday.

"I talk about Instagram not as a photography company, but instead as a communications company," Systrom said at the GigaOm Roadmap conference in San Francisco. "I believe that every photo that gets posted to Instagram is not necessarily a photograph -- or a video is not necessarily a video. It's a message. You're trying to send a message."

Systrom tried to send a message of his own. He talked at length about how Instagram, which sold to Facebook for $1 billion and now has 150 million active users, considers its photos and videos to be visual statements. His words, which echo past statements, are the most concrete example yet of why Twitter and Instagram remain at odds: Both apps are competing to be the platform chosen by the masses to share what's happening in the moment.

"The whole point of Instagram is to tell people what you're doing now. The whole space we created wasn't photo-sharing; it was 'in the now' photo-sharing. It was 'in the now' communication through these photos," he said.

Sounds like Twitter, right? If you're not convinced, consider Systrom's remarks on what he sees as Instagram's key challenges in figuring out what to do with the 55 million photos uploaded to the platform each day.

"How do we surface live events overseas? How do we tell you that there's a riot happening in London? How do we let you tune into the end of the World Series?" he said. "How do we let you discover what interests you?"

And though Systrom made it a point to remark that there's a place for Twitter in the social landscape, these unambiguous statements about Instagram's purpose, especially when combined with Twitter's new emphasis on photos and videos in timelines, paint a picture of two once-distinct services converging around "in the now" messages.

Twitter and Instagram have been at odds since the former botched an acquisition attempt of the photo-sharing app. As a Facebook property, Instagram is more of a threat to Twitter, a fact that has motivated both services to turn off features that once had the apps working together instead of against each other.

Foes they're likely to remain, especially if Systrom's evasive remarks, like the one below, are any indication.

"Can we do something about Instagram on Twitter?" interviewer Om Malik asked Systrom, referencing the fact that Instagram pictures are not viewable on Twitter. "Do you want me to broker something there?"

"It's a much more complicated conversation," Systrom said.