Are Instagram And Facebook Competitors Or Allies On The Social Graph?

Recent headlines about Instagram got us thinking about whether Facebook and Instagram will compete for the same share of the social graph – or whether different use cases will find them to be complementary.

Instagram continues to captivate headlines. Theories on why it works, the creation of new web interfaces complementing the mobile app with improved browsing and commenting features – and maybe most indicative, the fact that social networking behemoth Facebook is creating a photosharing app that mimics it – make it clear that Instagram is killing it. But amidst these headlines, the most provocative questions we’ve encountered were brought on by last week’s leaked photos of Facebook’s impending photo upgrade. The big question, as posed by Business Insider reads: Is Facebook about to marginalize Instagram?

While each of these pieces is worth the full read, we’re narrowing in on the single area we’re the most conflicted by. With Facebook potentially giving Instagram the sincerest form of flattery, how does Instagram plan to utilize and differentiate its sphere of influence within the social graph? Business Insider comments that Instagram’s 5MM users on a single platform to date (iOS) is a threat to Facebook and its intended domination of photo sharing. Last week’s leaked images would indicate this to be highly likely, with Facebook potentially mimicking Instagram features like filters (as well as some of Path’s features). That said, we speculate that Instagram is intentionally distancing and differentiating itself as a complementary, and not directly competitive threat to Facebook’s plans of ‘world domination.’

To note, we wonder: is there is a purposeful, calculated reason why Instagram has chosen to forego direct competition with (and mimicry of) Facebook by not adopting  some of its more ubiquitous social sharing features? Sure, Instagram integrates with Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms, allowing you to share your Instagram photos across each. But one thing Instagram has elected not to adopt is directly allowing users to ‘tag’ those in their social graph within their photos. Nor can you easily use Instagram to create albums of a series of photos (like you might on a night out, or on vacation). On Instagram, it’s just too time consuming, requiring you to give each individual photo a tad bit of time & detail (filter? caption? where to share?). Where Facebook is about broadcasting a social event and who you’re with (no photos? never happened…), Instagram may be about those key, individual photos that best capture your experience or perspective on any given moment, and creating conversation around those within the community. In short, Instagram and Facebook may not be mutually exclusive.

Of course, this is all theory. Facebook’s impending mobile photo-sharing app is not to be dismissed. We’ll have to wait and see what it actually delivers and what occasions these features are best suited for. But we’re also fairly confident (and hopeful) that Instagram is continuing to develop its unique role — and different use cases vs. Facebook –and hope to see unique features (branded filters? transactional capabilities? external content integration?) that cultivate its potential role as the photo-sharing app for more meaningful experiences, observations and conversations. And fewer photos from last night.

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