Twitter wants to be a media company, and its efforts to become one have created a lot of collateral damage.
That's not at all surprising: when the company was positioned as a communications platform with an open API, developers flocked to take advantage of the connately-flowing river of data that Twitter produces. But many of those developers, as well as companies like LinkedIn, had to be cut off as Twitter's desire to be a media company realistically requires it to control the user experience, and how its content is displayed, in consumer channels.
Twitter itself, however, relies on content provided by other services. In an effort to build a more compelling experience, the company has sought to ensure that its users can view media content posted on popular third party services. But, in an ironic twist, some of those services have aspirations similar to Twitter's, and the social media giant is learning that the hard way.
As reported by the New York Times, Instagram, one of the most popular sources of photos shared on Twitter, has cut Twitter's ability to display Instagram photos through its Twitter cards feature. According to a Twitter blog post, "This is due to Instagram disabling its Twitter cards integration."
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom isn't denying that. Speaking at the LeWeb conference in Paris, he stated "We’ve decided that right now, what makes sense, is to direct our users to the Instagram Web site" and while he claims Instagram maintains a good relationship with Twitter, one of his statements sounds a lot like what one might expect to hear from a Twitter executive responding to a disgruntled developer: "Obviously things change as a company evolves."
Back to the future?
Instagram's move isn't all that surprising given the company's status as a Facebook subsidiary. Last month, the popular photo sharing service rolled out web-based profiles. The stated rationale: give users "a simple way to share your photos with more people and to make it easier to discover new users on the web."
That seems like a sensible thing from a user experience perspective, but it was also clearly a business decision. One worth noting.
With Facebook trying to reverse course on allowing its users to have a say in the social network's policies, Twitter turning its back on developers and Instagram looking to become a destination, it's time to ask the question: is the promise of an open and more democratic consumer internet dead, and if so, does that mean that it is destined to look more and more like the consumer internet of a decade and a half ago, which was filled with closed ecosystems, 'portals', and formal and informal alliances?
While it's too early to say for sure, one thing is clear: as the children of Web 2.0 grow up, they seem to be rediscovering the approaches of their Web 1.0 predecessors. Whether that's a good thing or bad thing time will tell.