Popular photo application Instagram has overtaken Twitter in popularity as measured by its active monthly user numbers. According to reports, the Facebook owned application hit 300 million active users, which surpasses Twitter’s 284 million users. That figure is important as Instagram looks to monetize its application by engaging with businesses and including verified accounts for celebrities. But Twitter co-founder Evan Williams is unconcerned about being passed by the photo sharing app, stating in colorful language that he simply could not care less.
In less than a year, the amount of people using Instagram has increased exponentially by at least 50 percent. The number grew from 200 million to 300 million in a relatively short time, notwithstanding concerns that Facebook’s involvement would make it less popular than before. In 2012, the social media giant bought the small company for just $1 billion. While CEO and founder Kevin Systrom was cagey about stating what his company is now worth, there is little doubt that the figure would pass the $1 billion he sold it for, especially now that the company is looking for ways to monetize Instagram more efficiently.
For Facebook, this is good news. Mark Zuckerberg’s company has cornered the market on most social media with things like Facebook Connect which allows users with a profile to use their Facebook to log in to other sites. That concept has allowed Facebook to corner the market in many ways, but it has still not had success in creating its own applications. Camera, which was an early precursor to Instagram, and Poke are two notable failures. Facebook has had much more success with buying applications developed by others, like Instagram and WhatsApp.
Systrom credits Facebook with much of the success that Instagram has enjoyed so far. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal he said that the “tight-knit” relationship was part of the application’s success. Much of its growth did occur after Facebook bought the application in 2012, so it is reasonable to connect at least part of its growth to the involvement of the older social media site. There is some skepticism about how legitimate the numbers can be considered. Because of innovations like Facebook Connect, some users may just be people who used the connect option to login to other sites and do not actually post on the social media site at all. That fact might skew the numbers a little bit in Facebook’s favor.
That was part of Twitter founder Evan William’s gripe when the news about Instagram’s numbers were released. He noted that it could well be a question of breadth versus depth. While he questioned the concept of an active monthly user, he also noted that Twitter’s effect on the world has been far more substantial than Instagram’s. The fact that journalists, business professionals and information brokers use Twitter is what makes the site and its associated application important, not how many use it. When people want information, they use Twitter. Instagram has not achieved that kind of usefulness. Perhaps it was that fact that led Williams to state that he did not care if more people were looking at “pretty pictures” than were using Twitter.
While 300 million users is certainly a milestone, it is difficult to say why it is important. Obviously monetization works better when there are a lot of users, so this figure could make Instagram more attractive to potential advertisers. What it does not seem to mean, though, is that Twitter’s time as a major player is ending. Because of the different focus on information versus image sharing, Twitter will probably remain one of the top players in social media regardless of who has more users. Instagram may have overtaken Twitter in popularity, but it is Twitter’s usefulness as part of an information sharing network that makes it so important.
By Lydia Bradbury
Photo by Jason Howle – Flickr License