Twitter adds photo filters, the war begins

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December 13, 2012 by dannybishopcreative

This week Twitter officially announced their new photo filters. Rumours had been circulating for a few weeks that it was coming, and it was confirmed to me in during a presentation a Twitter executive gave to key social media staff from the Australian sporting sphere recently. I’ve honoured the embargo that was requested on the day, but now the wraps are off I can talk about it.

The questions on everyone’s lips are is it an instagram rip-off and will anyone use it? The bigger question though is does this signal a war between Twitter and Instagram’s new owners, Facebook?

It’s not that long ago that Twitter relied solely on third party apps and its own API if you wanted to include an image in a tweet. In the early days of Twitter every photo you saw was hosted by Twitpic, Yfrog and others. In July 2011 Twitter started hosting photos themselves, but also improved their integration with services like Youtube. The timeline was upgraded to allow for photos and videos to be viewed directly, rather than forcing you to head off to another site to see what your friends were keen to show off.

The rise of instagram may have taken some by surprise, with it’s limited functionality and low fidelity images it was seen by some as the visual equivalent of the fart apps that predominated the early days of app stores.

But the public have fallen in love with sharing photos that make you look like a 1970s photographer, and in reality the app is perfectly suited to the way many people use social apps, dropping in and out briefly before moving on to the next thing. The fact it makes even average photos look hip doesn’t hurt either!

But with Instagram purchased by Facebook the writing was on the wall. The New Big Blue were always going to make sure future versions of Instagram hooked into Facebook better than any other social network. Just last week the first shot across the bow was fired, with Instagram no longer allowing images taken with the app to appear in the timeline of Twitter users.  Now where once the instagram image appeared below a tweet on your phone there is just a link.

I’m not sure who knew what. Did Twitter know this was coming? Perhaps. If so it seems plausible that the release of their own filters was a response. It’s also possible, I suppose, that Instagram got wind of the Twitter development and fired a pre-emptive strike.

Twitter’s version of filters isn’t as polished as Instagram just yet, but it does have a crop tool – something that was missing in Instagram itself until this week. Twitter doesn’t have those stylised borders, which will disappoint some but it does have something instagram doesn’t have: the ability to apply filters to photos directly from the twitter app on your phone.

Will people continue to use instagram? Of course.  Will people also use the twitter filters? Probably. But Twitter is facing a big uphill climb to get people off Instagram.

Right now people are used to the methods they use, and certainly a brief scan of your twitter thread will reveal that not every image on Twitter is taken with Instagram. Twitter’s real battle ground is with those who currently use the inbuilt picture taking/sharing features. Get those people to fall in love with their own filters and they’ve got a beachhead for the fight ahead.

No doubt though this forms one of the big opening salvos in the war between Facebook and Twitter. And with the current backlash both from users and community managers over Facebook’s filtering of the timeline it’s not certain that the biggest, baddest social network in the room is fait accompli to end up the winner.



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