Facebook eats itself

Social networking firm launches rival to Instagram, on which it just spent $1bn.

Facebook has launched its own smartphone photography application, just six weeks after its controversial $1 billion Instagram acquisition. But why would it want to effectively compete with itself?

Facebook's new mobile photography app, simply named 'Camera', is the latest attempt by the company to better integrate its social media platform with smartphones - a weakness the company acknowledged in its recent – and troubled – IPO.

Just six weeks ago Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the controversial purchase of Instagram for $1bn, a revenue-less, profitless start up photography application provider that has proven popular with the young and trendy, especially the 'hipster' demographic.

 The two apps share much in common, but for now Zuckerberg has said that Instagram will be run as its own entity, without being folded into Facebook proper.

Photography-wise, it's safe to say that Camera has borrowed a lot from Instagram, such as instant Facebook posting (naturally), basic cropping and colour filters. Most of these filters are very basic, and don't tend to cross over into Instagram's retro faded-Polaroid cachet.

Where Facebook's new app really shines is in its reviewing capabilities, which is actually very well integrated with Facebook itself. I actually now find this to be preferable to using the formal Facebook app (or mobile web version) to review images posted by myself or contacts.

Simple tabs flip between 'Me' and 'Friends', users then scroll vertically through albums, and then horizontally within the albums themselves - it makes for a very quick and efficient browsing platform, and reminds me of Flipbook's UI.

Normal Facebook posts and the other detritus are excluded, making for a nice visual experience - likes, comment numbers and tags are translucently overlaid in the corners of the images. Tagging is done simply by tapping the image, while comments exist in a text box below the image.

Basically, you don't need to open new windows, or leave the app to fiddle with your images (although that’s an option), which is a breath of fresh air for Facebook's normally torturous mobile interfaces.

But why has Facebook decided to compete with itself in this space?

Google learned the hard way with its attempts years ago to run YouTube alongside Google Video after its purchase. Google Video was eventually folded into YouTube, and mostly disbanded. It exists now as little more than a YouTube shell.

HP has also demonstrated how buying companies can go wrong - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Run it separately and collect the profits - let the founders run it as they have been. Although in the case of Instagram, the business case is a bit more iffy and looks worryingly like a 'dot-com' purchase.

To be fair to Facebook, it has had its Camera app in development for a long time - long before any Instagram purchase - Zuckerberg has admitted as much.

I suspect the demographics between Camera and Instagram are different enough for them both to survive comfortably for the time being. As mentioned earlier, Facebook has been careful not to steal Instagram's most visible appeal - its scratchy, retro Polaroid look that hipster kids love: essentially a false sense of individuality and creativity.

Allan Swann is the deputy editor of Computer Business Review

Photograph: Getty Images

Allan Swann is the deputy editor of Computer Business Review.

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Commons Confidential: Sleepy Zac is too laid-back

Lucy Allan's "threat", Clean for the Queen and the case of the invisible frontbencher.

After six years as a minister for Europe, David Lidington’s profile remains low. But the invisible frontbencher might be useful in a pub quiz, if not a referendum. A Tory snout muttered that David Who? has been boasting that he can name 20 of the 28 European commissioners currently parked in Brussels.

Lidington admitted that he will be history, should the UK decide to quit the EU. “If Britain voted to leave,” he nervously told a Tory gathering, “I think I’d let somebody else have a go in this job.” David Cameron is presumably thinking the same thing. Incidentally, can anybody name Britain’s EU commissioner?

“I wanted to get in touch to let you know about a fantastic initiative to help clean up the UK in advance of HM the Queen’s 90th birthday,” trilled the Banbury Tory Victoria Prentis in an email to fellow MPs. “‘Clean for the Queen’ brings together all the anti-litter organisations from the UK and aims to get people involved in the largest community-inspired action against litter . . . I will also be holding a drop-in photo opportunity . . . We will have posters, litter bags and T-shirts. Please do come along.” I await the formation of a breakaway group: “Republicans for Rubbish”.

Tory colleagues are advising Zac Goldsmith, I hear, to invest a slice of his inherited £300m fortune in speaking lessons to help him stop sounding so disinterested. Laid-Back Zac appears to lull himself to sleep on public platforms and on TV. My informant whispered that cheeky Tory MPs have been cooking up a slogan – “Goldsmith: head and shoulders above Labour” – ahead of the tall, rich kid’s tussle with the pocket battleship Sadiq Khan to become the mayor of London.

The Telford Tory Lucy Allan has finally received help after inserting the words “Unless you die” into a constituent’s email that she posted on Facebook, presumably to present herself as the victim of a non-existent death threat. Allan has since become embroiled in accusations of bullying a sick staffer. “The House has offered me a three-hour media training session,” the fantasist said in an email to colleagues. “There are two extra slots available . . .” How much will this cost us?

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when the Injustice Secretary, Michael Gove, shared a drink with Chris Grayling and informed his predecessor that prisons would be the next piece of his legacy to be reversed. Chris “the Jackal” Grayling, by the way, is complaining that Gove’s spads are rubbishing him. And with good reason.

The Tory lobbyist Baron Hill of Oareford is the UK’s chap at the European Commission. He puts the margin into marginalised at the Berlaymont.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle