This article was published on June 29, 2013

It’s time to stop comparing Instagram and Vine using Twitter

It’s time to stop comparing Instagram and Vine using Twitter
Jon Russell
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Jon Russell

Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on T Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on Twitter, Angel List, LinkedIn.

Reports this week suggesting that Instagram’s adoption of video has seen use of Twitter-owned Vine “tank” are wide of the mark, or at least  premature, according to new information.

First, let’s take a step back.

Facebook-owned Instagram introduced the option to record 15-second-long video to its wildly popular photo-sharing service this month. With 130 million monthly active users, it has a user base that is significantly larger than Vine, which recorded 13 million downloads when it launched an Android app in early June.

Given the differences in scale, it was easy to nod along when Marketing Land provided graphical evidence that Instagram’s sparkling new video service was eating into use of Vine. As shown below, the chart from analytic firm Topsy chart appears to show that the number of links to Vine videos on Twitter dropped off right after Instagram got video.


However, there’s a big caveat with this data: it only covers a sample of the conversation on Twitter, not all of it. Topsy itself explains in a blog post that its free service, used to generate the chart above, is not representative of Twitter as a whole:

The free Topsy service generates trend charts using a sample of the most influential people and tweets. This allows users to see emerging trends among influencers in real time.

The company’s premium Pro service does count all of the links posted to Twitter — by influencers and regular folk alike — and its chart of Instagram and Vine URL sharing paints a very different picture. One that does not show Vine taking a hit on usage since ‘Vidstagram’ launched. In fact, it shows that Instagram has led the way consistently.


No dramatic change

In the Topsy Pro chart — which covers Twitter activity over the last six months — the number of links to Instagram has grown slowly but consistently, while Vine has grown in a more burst-like manner, it still sits in the shadow of Instagram. (The jagged growth is likely down to peak/trough periods of activity — such as spikes on weekends, drops during the week, etc.)

Despite the significant gap in overall users, the number of links to Vine on Twitter topped 4 million per day on two occasions following the app’s launch on Android. That usage has tapered off a bit — that’s to be expected since new app and platform launches typically prompt anomalous spikes — but, when Vine did hit that 4 million peak, its total number of links was nearly half of that which Instagram saw during the same period. That’s pretty impressive.

The sum of the charts is that, as AllThingsD points out, there is no winner for now. But there is one more important point to make: making grand assumptions from links on Twitter does not reflect all users and activity on Vine or Instagram.

Twitter — though a daily essential for many — has just south of 200 million monthly active users. That’s actually less than messaging service WhatsApp — which reports 250 million monthly active users — and of course Facebook has more than 1 billion users who go to its service per month.

A wonky basis for analysis

Analyzing Twitter links, while an interesting and doubtless informative activity, does not tell the full story since Twitter is just one popular way of communicating and sharing online.

The ground is particularly uneven on Twitter because Instagram no longer supports Twitter Cards, albeit through its own doing. Since December 2012, users of and official Twitter apps no longer see photos or videos within their Timelines, as they do with links to Vine, Twitter’s own photo service and others that support Cards.

There’s been plenty of debate about how the loss of support for Cards affected sharing to Twitter from Instagram. While there’s no concrete proof either way — speaking for myself, it’s meant I share less, despite workarounds — it isn’t level to compare a non-Twitter optimized service with one that is owned by Twitter, and thus obviously optimized and likely well-used by Twitter regulars.

In short, it’s time to stop comparing Instagram and Vine using Twitter.

However, since a balanced comparison requires user metrics from both sides and Twitter’s data is open than Facebook and others, I don’t anticipate that media will cease hitting up Topsy or other analytics services to pit the two video apps head-to-head — in spite of the inherent flaws.

Headline image via thecampbells / Flickr

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