MENLO PARK, Calif. — Kevin Systrom says he has no interest in leavingInstagram to run Twitter, despite the hopes of some on Wall Street that he will consider the job.
He would rather focus on beating Twitter.
On Tuesday, Instagram began tapping into the 70 million photos and videos posted daily to its service to put its 300 million users in the middle of current events, including Taylor Swift’s latest concert and the memorials to the victims of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church shootings.
Despite Twitter’s reputation for dominating such live events, Mr. Systrom contends that his rival’s emphasis on text means it does not do a good job of helping people find out what is happening and feel part of it.
“If you want live media happening right now from a place, it’s really hard to get to,” Mr. Systrom, chief executive and co-founder of Instagram, said in an interview on Friday on the Silicon Valley campus of Facebook, which bought Instagram in 2012.
The stream of photos and videos posted on Instagram, from celebrities as well as from ordinary people, can deliver a better you-are-there feeling, he said, whether it’s a Houston flood or a Brooklyn blizzard.
“We’re unlocking a new capability in the world,” Mr. Systrom said, showing off live images from Oakland’s celebration for the National Basketball Association champions, the Golden State Warriors, as he spoke. “It is allowing our community to connect to the world as it happens.”
Instagram’s updated Explore button, which will first appear in American versions of the app, will show users the most important photos from events and places in their regions and across the country, as determined by the service’s algorithms.
Instagram has also improved its search function to make it easier to find images related to any topic, and it will feature hand-selected collections, such as extreme athletes or deserted islands, to help users discover interesting material.
It sounds a lot like Project Lightning, a set of improvements that Twitter plans for the fall to highlight top content on timely topics, chosen by human editors, to supplement its standard reverse-chronological feed of Twitter posts.
“It’s interesting that we both kind of announced the same thing around the same time,” Mr. Systrom said. “The good news is you’re going to be able to use this as of Tuesday.”
He will face challenges in trying to reach his goal of becoming the online destination for real-time events. Text on Instagram is limited to captions, which cannot be searched. So finding the right images depends largely on hashtags. And while many celebrities and even political leaders use Instagram, it is far from the public square that Twitter has become.
Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst at eMarketer, a research company, said that Instagram’s update seems to compete more with the presentation of live events on Snapchat, the mobile messaging service, than with Twitter.
“The way that it’s set up, it doesn’t feel as immediate as Twitter does, and it doesn’t feel as necessary as Twitter does,” said Ms. Williamson, who follows social media companies. “Twitter still has the lead there. Where Instagram could be interesting is more on the entertainment side — think celebrities, fashion shows.”
Mr. Systrom said discovery of live events was something that he and the company’s other co-founder, Mike Krieger, had dreamed of including since they created the service five years ago. He described hearing the roar of the crowd during a Giants game at AT&T Park when the company was in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, and asking Mr. Krieger, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could let people see what’s happening in the world live through Instagram?”
Until now, Instagram’s tools for doing that have been clunky. The service typically showed users only images posted by accounts they followed. Although people could search Instagram for photos tagged with a particular hashtag, such as #WorldSeries, that would bring up every photo tagged with the subject. And there was no easy way to discover topics that were unexpectedly in the news.
During that time, Twitter established itself as the leading place for watching momentous world events unfold, such as the 2009 political protests in Iran, as well as silly moments like Ellen DeGeneres’s selfie at the Oscars in 2014. (Instagram, too, has had its moments in the sun, becoming a tool of activists during the Hong Kong protests last year, for example.)
However, much like Instagram, Twitter has struggled to help people find the most important posts among the half-billion or so every day. After spinning its wheels for years, Twitter is finally increasing its pace of product innovation. But it was too little, too late to satisfy Wall Street, and this month Dick Costolo, the chief executive, announced that he would step down on July 1.
Twitter’s board is now searching for a permanent chief executive, and one of the company’s founders, Jack Dorsey, is filling in temporarily. Many investors would like to see the board hire someone viewed as a product visionary, such as Mr. Systrom, rather than another business-oriented executive like Mr. Costolo.
Mr. Systrom, a former intern at the company that became Twitter, has already had a couple of big opportunities to help Twitter become a more visual destination but chose not to.
In 2012, before striking the $1 billion deal with Facebook, he considered selling Instagram to Twitter. Then, shortly after the acquisition, Instagram stopped allowing its photos to be displayed on the rival service.
Today, Instagram has roughly the same number of active users as Twitter, but it is growing more quickly, has a younger core audience and faces little pressure to increase the amount of advertising on its service quickly to impress investors.
Facebook’s stock closed at a record high of $87.88 on Tuesday, in part because of investor excitement over new advertising products on Facebook and Instagram that company executives discussed at a conference in Cannes, France.
No wonder Mr. Systrom would not consider giving up Instagram for the challenges of serving as Twitter’s chief executive.
“I am squarely focused on Instagram right now,” he said. “We have a lot to do here. I love it, and it’s my baby.”
[“source – nytimes.com”]