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.

Getty Images.
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.