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Twitter fires first shots against Instagram/Facebook

The Great Network Wars of 2012 have begun.

Douchebag Twitter.
Douchebag Twitter.

Someday, your children will ask you "where were you when the first shots of the great Twitter Wars were fired?" Well, if you're reading this from Britain, you were probably in bed, but fired they were last night, as Twitter disabled access to parts of its network for the Facebook-owned photo sharing app Instagram.

TechCrunch's Alexia Tsotsis reports:

Instagram has just announced 80 million users and a new app update; Noticeably missing in the update? The “Find Your Friends” on Twitter feature, which allowed users to follow the same people they follow on Twitter on Instagram.

The “Tweet Photo” feature is still available.

We’ve learned that the feature is missing due to API restrictions from Twitter’s end. . .

The official word from Twitter, as told to The Next Web's Brad McCarthy:

We understand that there’s great value associated with Twitter’s follow graph data, and we can confirm that it is no longer available within Instagram.

Twitter is, it appears, deathly serious about consolidating its users into one big, official-client using, advertising-watching mass of people. It announced earlier this month that it was going to be severely restricting API access – the method by which apps communicate with the network – to unofficial apps like Hootsuite, Tweetbot and Ubersocial "replicate the experience of using Twitter.com".

Now it apparently wants to protect its "follow graph", the information about who follows who, as well. What's interesting is that this is not a blanket change to the API. Smaller apps, like the reading service Instapaper, still have access to the follow graph, and are using it in the same way Instagram has been banned. This is a surgical strike against Facebook.

Twitter is playing a dangerous game with their users here, however. Part of the reason the service is so popular has been the ease with which other ones can hook into it. Yes, Instagram needed access to the follow graph to take off; but once all your Twitter friends became Instagram friends as well, the bond of the first app grew stronger. If everything comes from one site, there is the chance that the walled garden that they are trying to create may keep people out as well as in.

The conflict – between how they grew and how they want to grow – was summed up well by Matt Yglesias, who wrote that Twitter wants to be an advertising company, but all its users want it to be a service provider:

Rather than selling lots of ads on Twitter, Twitter could sell itself as a service to the large number of people and firms who are already organically using it as an advertising tool.

Which is just to say that the Twitter user base seems ideal for a tiered pricing model. Most people on Twitter don't tweet that much, don't have very many followers, and don't particularly aspire to having a large number of followers. Then you have a relatively small minority of heavy users who are deliberately courting a mass Twitter audience. Just charge us! Let everyone with fewer than 500 followers use it for free, and then have a few tiers of pricing for people with large followings. Most people probably have no desire to pay for Twitter, but anyone who's bothered to amass 20,000 is obviously getting a lot of value from access to the Twitter audience and would pay for it. Meanwhile the broad mass of non-professional users could keep using a great no-charge ad-free service that creates the ecosystem pro users want to pay to gain access to.

Sadly, the company is unlikely to take that advice; yet for many people, a small monthly fee would be worth it to keep twitter the way it was when they joined it. Just remember, if you aren't paying for something, you aren't the customer – you're the product being sold.