Facebook has had more mobile users than Twitter for some time now. But now it’s shown that even its subsidiaries can attract more users than its closest competitor.
The company announced Tuesday that it has more than 1 billion mobile users. That’s notable because it means that a company formerly known for its utter lack of smartphone prowess has convinced most of its users to download and use its mobile apps. But it’s not as noteworthy as the news that Instagram, which Facebook acquired in April 2012, also has more mobile users than Twitter. The social network designed around mobile devices has not only ceded them to its biggest rivals — it’s now been outmatched by much smaller divisions within that company.
The Financial Times reports that 35 million Americans used Instagram’s mobile app at least once a month in 2013; just 30.8 million people used Twitter’s app during the same periods. If Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp is cleared the company will offer yet another service that dwarfs Twitter even though its user base is a fraction of the size of the core Facebook service.
That explains why Twitter has sought to make its service more familiar to Facebook users. The company recently added improved photo features that replicate those found in Facebook and Instagram; it’s experimenting with the removal of arcane terms like “retweet” from its mobile apps; and it’s reportedly changing the “direct messages” feature that allows its users to send private messages on the otherwise public network. Twitter used to seem like a vulture waiting to devour Facebook’s scraps — now it seems like a hummingbird hovering by the ear of a giant.
Reactions from around the Web
Recode writes about the importance of Facebook’s mobile growth:
This milestone represents a significant shift from just two years ago, when making the leap from desktop to mobile posed a major challenge for Zuckerberg. That was the same year Facebook acquired the photo-sharing startup Instagram for $1 billion. Back then, it boasted some 30 million users. Now, the number of people using Instagram to share photos and videos has reached 200 million.
Facebook’s mobile transition is so well advanced, its services now account for 20 percent of the time people spend with mobile apps, according to a new J.P. Morgan report.
Fast Company notes the significance of Twitter’s new photo features:
Sure, we’ve seen Twitter take some cues from Facebook before (and vice versa). But what makes this particular rollout notable is that tagging users as they appear in an image doesn’t eat into your existing 140-character count. This is big. Taken at face value, it would seem to reinforce previous hints that Twitter is working to move its existing scaffolding–things that eat into the character limit, like @ replies and hashtags–into the background of the service. Twitter already does this to an extent in the form of its retweet button, which is intended to replace the manual RT and lend more accurate attribution.
Tagging lends some clarity to Twitter’s future roadmap. It isn’t hard to imagine that, pretty soon, one will be able to tag other users in tweets without consuming valuable character spaces. This would, in theory, expand what some would deem an archaic 140 character limit for the first time in the service’s history.
The Financial Times reports that advertisers are unlikely to leave Twitter for Instagram:
Deborah Aho-Williamson, an analyst at E-Marketer, said Instagram is coming on ‘very rapidly’ and that brand advertisers see it as a ‘beautiful branding platform’ to showcase images and video.
But she added that the app was unlikely to take marketers away from Twitter, which is further along in the process of monetisation.
‘The use cases are so different. Instagram is so much about sharing photos and video and little graphics whereas Twitter is so much more real-time information and news,’ she said.
Pando weighs in
Pando alum Richard Nieva wrote about Facebook’s mobile ineptitude after its Graph Search announcement:
Either way, in anticipation for Facebook’s big announcement, the rumor mill had been churning, and part of that supposed mobile master plan was supposed to come to fruition today, here at headquarters.
Then Mark Zuckerberg came onstage, and the company announced…a search product. Without mobile integration. Is mobile simply not in Facebook’s DNA? Is the company who bet heavily on HTML before finally — belatedly — pivoting to a native app as uncomfortable in this world as Google is trying to do social? So far, we have a bloated, hard to navigate app; a clone of Snapchat, which isn’t even a market leader itself; and the only real mobile property that works is the one the company bought for $1 billion.
I wrote about the effect of Twitter’s new photo features yesterday:
The release of this feature after months of complaints from both investors and journalists that signing up for Twitter — or convincing friends that the service is worthwhile — is an ordeal probably isn’t a coincidence. Becoming more like Facebook might introduce more friction into a service previously known for its bare-bones approach to communication, but it will also make Twitter more familiar to the many people who already know Facebook.