With Twitter prepping photo filters, Instagram takes action to protect brand

Instagram made a change this weekend that prevents previews of photos posted from the app from appearing on Twitter. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom confirmed at Le Web that this was intentional so that more users visit Instagram on the web and mobile.

“This is an evolution of just where we are and where we want links from our content to go,” Systrom said.

There is still an easy option for users to share their recent Instagram shots on Twitter, but they appear only as a link rather than as a full photo. It makes sense for Instagram to capture traffic from Twitter and bring users into its platform where they can comment, like or take other actions within its ecosystem — even if the experience is less ideal for users.

But there’s something else at play here. Twitter is rumored to be working on its own photo filtering feature. The New York Times reported this in early November and this weekend AllThingsD reported that the feature could roll out before the end of the year. [Update 12/10/12 3:25 p.m. – Twitter launched filters today.] Instagram’s moves to stop showing its photos within Twitter could be a means of brand protection. It might not want users to confuse Twitter’s stylized photos with its own hallmark of vintage-looking square photos.

For now it seems Instagram will continue to let its images appear natively within other services, giving more reason to believe the company’s issue is with Twitter because of impending competition.

“This is more of a one-off, trying to figure out specifically with our Twitter integration what it should look like,” he said at Le Web. “What we’ve decided is that now what makes sense is to direct users to our new mobile experience.”
Instagram photos appear full-size on Facebook, naturally because the photo sharing app is owned by the social network, but also because by integrating Facebook Open Graph, all Instagram activity is grouped on users’ Timelines and in the feed with links to view on Instagram and download the app. Open Graph also offers “action links,” which are ways for users to take actions within third-party apps without leaving Facebook. For example, users can save a Foursquare location to their bookmarks directly from Facebook News Feed. Instagram can implement its own action links. It’s also worth noting Facebook has a Camera app that includes filters, but it does not require photos to be square or include borders like Instagram does.

On Tumblr, Instagram photos appear with Instagram icons and link to a page with more info about the photo service, as well as a link to view the photo on Instagram. Systrom said at Le Web that Tumblr drives a lot of traffic for Instagram.

Instagram photos can also be pushed to Flickr, where they are tagged with terms “instagram app” and whichever photo filter was used, but there aren’t links back to Instagram. This doesn’t seem like an ideal experience, but Systrom didn’t suggest that Instagram would cut off Flickr. [Update 12/12/12 10:37 a.m. PT – Flickr today released a new iPhone app that includes photo filters and other sharing features.]

Instagram photos on Foursquare appear with a small “via Instagram” link when viewed full-size, but otherwise aren’t distinguished. However, Foursquare currently powers Instagram’s location tagging feature, so the company is benefiting from the location-based service.

For now, when users share Instagram links on Twitter, there is no preview of the content. Although the company doesn’t want its full images to be shown on Twitter, Instagram might want to consider using Twitter Cards to give users more details about the photo, the photographer and the app. Many websites use Twitter Cards to give users a summary that makes them more likely to click through. As seen to the right, these also include logos and links to follow the publisher on Twitter. As long as Twitter Cards don’t show Instagram photos full size, there is still a reason for users to visit Instagram directly.

However, if users and brands find that Twitter doesn’t help generate views and activity on their Instagram photos, they’ll be more likely to look for workarounds, including uploading Instagram images to Twitter directly or using the native photo editing feature Twitter builds. This could have a negative impact on Instagram.