I was a massive fan of Instagram as it made sharing photos with my friends so easy. Snap away, apply a filter and share it on Twitter. Now that process hasn't changed from my point of view since I got the app but as of December 9th it changed quite fundamentally to anyone who wanted to view my photos. Instagram decided to turn off support for Twitter cards (the things that allow you to link media to a tweet). This means that rather than clicking on the tweet and having it expand to show you the attached media like this.
Now when you attach an Instagram photo and click on the tweet what you're greeted with is this.
So now anyone wanting to look at any photo I've shared has to click on the link that Instagram has attached to my tweet. They then have to go off to the Instagram website to see my photo. On a laptop all it does is open up a new tab in your browser. The only problem is that a lot of people check Twitter on their phones (I know I certainly do) and then your phone has to leave the twitter app, open up a browser and then the Instagram website all just to show me a picture. Then of course once you're done you're left in your browser app rather than still being in the twitter app. The trouble is that I'm lazy and I don't want to sit around waiting for all that to happen and what that means is that I just won't look at nearly as many Instagram photos as I used to. I know if I feel this way I'm certainly not going to be the only one and I've certainly seen a change in my Twitter feed over the last few weeks.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom has been quoted as saying "Really it's about where you go to consume that image. We want that to be on Instagram". Obviously this makes sense from a business point of view as they have control over the content on their website which gives them a number of benefits including the ability to monetize their huge user base. The trouble is that one of the main factors which caused Instagrams record breaking growth was the integration with the big social networks. Onavo (the Menlo park based analytics company that tracks app usage) notes that before 9th December 16% of twitter users on iOS would view Instagram pics from within the Twitter app daily. At the same time though it was an awful referral partner with just 0.2% of visits to Instagram coming from Twitter. After the 9th obviously Instagram views from the app dropped off and according to Onavo 5% of iOS users now visit Instagram from the Twitter app. The trouble is that 5% is down 11 points from the 16% it was previously. 11 points is a huge number when you're talking Twitter scale.
Instagram is playing a dangerous game as at the moment they are a very popular app, but they don't offer anything particularly special. They are in the fortunate position that they have a huge user base but I've certainly seen a change on my Twitter feed over the last few weeks. Prior to the 9th the vast majority of people on my feed seemed to be using Instagram to be sharing pictures. Looking at my feed today, out of the last ten people to share pictures on my feed only three were still using Instagram and that actually turns out to be the same person sharing three photos. What this does mean is that a huge number of photo sharing apps that previously lived in the shadow of Instagram are now the go to choice for anyone switching. The only thing that kept me with Instagram for a while was that I was tied into the product. I didn't want to have to go searching for an app that did the work that Instagram did for me and then learn that new interface. Fortunately my friend has written a blog post doing the leg work of finding a new app for me (even though I'm on Android the number one choice is cross platform) over at http://www.stevefenton.co.uk/....
All this essentially boils down to an extra click that the user has to make. Something that you can think very little of when you're designing a user interface. The trouble is the number of times that click happens. If it were an extra click that I had to make, I wouldn't be happy but I probably wouldn't have switched apps. Unfortunately it's not. It's a click that anyone who wants to view a photo that I want to share with them has to make and I certainly don't want to make it harder for people to view my photos. If I did why would I be sharing them? So next time you change a user interface to add an extra click maybe you'll think about it a little more and consider the context of that click.