• 07.12.13

No Filter: How Instagram’s Kevin Systrom Views Twitter

Instagram and Twitter are increasingly at loggerheads as the two compete in real-time social sharing. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom talks about Twitter as a platform.

No Filter: How Instagram’s Kevin Systrom Views Twitter

It’s often overlooked that Instagram got started in the same office as Twitter. With such a common bond linking them, you’d expect the two companies to have a healthy camaraderie, but in recent months, the relationship between the two social media powerhouses has shifted from sibling rivalry to bitter competition.


The two have been increasingly at loggerheads ever since Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom reportedly spurned an offer by Twitter to acquire the photo-sharing company, and chose to marry its rival Facebook. In early December, Twitter lost its ability to give users access to embedded Instagram photos within their Twitter feeds; roughly a week later, Twitter unveiled its own photo-filtering service. The back-and-forth came to a head last month, when Instagram introduced its own video-sharing service to compete with Twitter’s popular Vine application. Butting heads is far from uncommon when two tech giants share the same space, but on a recent visit with Systrom at Instagram’s office, as part of our feature on the company’s first year at Facebook, Fast Company got a better sense of how the Instagram cofounder truly feels about Twitter.

“There are some things that are just fit for media–it’s this visceral medium that gives you the ability to understand a situation that you can’t otherwise,” Systrom says before acknowledging that “there is always going to be room for text–there’s always going to be room for sharing links on Twitter.”

However, it’s clear Systrom believes there is much more promise in visual content. He talked about the Arab Spring, an event that some say social media played a prominent role in creating, though this has been contested. It’s been said that Twitter and Facebook were powerful tools during the various uprisings. Could Instagram ever have a similar Arab Spring moment?

Systrom says Instagram’s “effect on the world may be more subtle.” But he also pointed to the Seal Team 6 raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound as an example of how Instagram could be a more powerful news medium than Twitter. “You know on Twitter when the Bin Laden raid happened? That guy was live-tweeting it,” Systrom says. “But why can’t I see that?”

That’s long been the promise of Instagram, according to Systrom. As he once told me, “We think about photos like, This is your tweet.” In other words, what content is more compelling: the text of a tweet or the photo attached to it?

“Instagram is solving a very different problem [than Twitter]–allowing you to literally teleport anywhere in the world, whether it’s with your friends or news,” Systrom says. “I feel like one day we’ll wake up and Instagram will be this real-time view into the world as it happens.”


Of course, that description increasingly sounds like the aim for Twitter’s Vine, which also aims to be a “real-time view into the world as it happens.” Indeed, the visual nature of the medium perhaps explains why Instagram might’ve been concerned with its growing popularity on Twitter–and why Instagram launched a similar video-sharing service just six months after Twitter launched Vine.

[Image: Flickr user Ed Sweeney]

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.