Facebook Releases Instagram Competitor Despite Owning Instagram

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Photo: Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg and company followed their massive hiccup of an IPO with the release of a new mobile app called Facebook Camera today, allowing users to take photos, color them with corny filters, and share them with friends — more or less the exact same things Instagram does. Instagram, remember, is the shoot/filter/share app Facebook bought for $1 billion last month at Zuckerberg's personal insistence. This strange, counterintuitive strategy already has the tech world wondering: What were they thinking?

In announcing the (very expensive) Instagram deal, Zuckerberg said Facebook is "committed to building and growing Instagram independently," and a spokesman told TechCrunch the same thing today, adding, "I anticipate some healthy competition." But why bother? Yes, Facebook has a bajillion more users than Instagram's 50 million, but integrating the two, even if it's not completely, seems far more practical than pitting the bases against one another.

If Facebook bought Instagram only to clear the lane of competition and make room for their own photo app, not only did they pay too much, but they still have some work to do: Early indications are that Instagram's interface and functionality are preferable, except for the ability to upload batches of photos, which could presumably be added without issue eventually. And although the Times claims, "The filters in Facebook Camera were developed by Facebook and are not borrowed from Instagram," they sure look the same.

Surely the Facebook Camera app was in development long before the Instagram deal presented itself — the acquisition isn't even complete yet — but releasing it now still seems downright undermine-y. Maybe the idea is to leave Instagram for the cool kids — the foodies, rappers, and early adopters that make up its public face — and give Facebook Camera to the social networking masses, but this needless segregation seems to go against Zuckerberg's own mantra that Facebook was "built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected." And despite appearances, Instagram is not a niche thing; to treat it like one feels like squandering potential, not to mention a billion dollars.