Ev Williams is right not to care about Instagram

December 12, 2014

In a blog post on Wednesday, Instagram boasted that it had surpassed 300 million active users, and as tech journalists were quick to point out, that number eclipses Twitter’s 284 million actives. The comparison did not appear to sit well with Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, who told Fortune’s Erin Griffith:

If you think about the impact Twitter has on the world versus Instagram, it’s pretty significant. It’s at least apples to oranges. Twitter is what we wanted it to be. It’s this realtime information network where everything in the world that happens on Twitter—important stuff breaks on Twitter and world leaders have conversations on Twitter. If that’s happening, I frankly don’t give a shit if Instagram has more people looking at pretty pictures.

Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for a then-eye-popping $1 billion, while at this writing Twitter was valued around $23 billion, which could contribute to Williams’s perceived testiness. But he also correctly told Fortune that Twitter makes more money than Instagram.

As this Reuters graphic shows, Facebook, which claims 1.35 billion active users, now has three businesses with more active users than Twitter, with the WhatsApp messaging service logging 600 million per month. Facebook’s accounting for what constitutes an active user is a bit liberal, and Twitter says that 500 million people actively see tweets each month if embedded tweets and third party viewing is taken into account, so straight on-site or on-app users is a somewhat squishy statistic.

I love Instagram, and I’ve come to post more photos there than I tweet messages from my Twitter account. But I also spend about 20 more hours per week scrolling through my Twitter feed than I invest looking at other people’s photos on Instagram. The competition for eyeballs is indeed one metric by which to compare social media entities, but as a real-time news source, Twitter is unparalleled and truly—and literally—a revolutionary tool. Williams is right to push back on the comparison.

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