Twitter fires first shots against Instagram/Facebook

The Great Network Wars of 2012 have begun.

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.

Douchebag Twitter.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.