Popular photo sharing app Instagram is expanding its functionality with the launch of a new direct messaging platform.
On Thursday at a special event in New York City, photo and video sharing app announced a new feature called Instagram Direct, which allows users to share private pictures and videos with up to 15 people, without it appearing to the public.
A new messaging feature, available today for iOS and Android, allows an Instagram user to send a photo to any other, whether or not they are following one another.
“Communication is really core,” Instagram cofounder and CEO Kevin Systrom said during the event. “It’s not about photography necessarily. We aren’t built into cameras. We are built into phones, and phones are communication devices.”
He added: “You take a moment in the world, and you take a photo or video, and you create a space for conversation. It’s a really fun way to bring people together around photos and videos, just like you’d do at home.”
After downloading the app update, a new icon will appear at the top right corner of Instagram’s home feed. Here, an inbox will include photos and videos that others send, as well as an option to push out content to followers or specific people.
Only images and video from people a user already followed on Instagram would be automatically shown, Mr. Systrom said, but other users could send content that would appear only when the recipient agreed to view them. Previously, Instagram only allowed users to share photos and videos with all of their followers.
He added that Instagram would not monitor messages for explicit or offensive content – but that the usual reporting methods would apply to private messages as well as those shared publicly.
During a Q&A session held after the event, Instagram CEO said text messages can’t be sent without a photo, but it’s possible to comment on images and re-open the conversation that way. Over time, Instagram will learn who you share with most and present them in groups, reports Mashable.
The new option places Instagram in more direct competition with Snapchat, the current hot photo messaging app that reportedly spurned a $3 billion buyout offer from Facebook last month. However, it differs from Snapchat’s ephemeral pictures, as Instagram Direct’s photos won’t disappear after a few seconds. In the view of CEO Kevin Systrom this was strength of the new feature.
“Instagram is focused on capturing and sharing the world’s moments,” he said at a press event in New York. “What we’re best at is archiving those moments and sharing them with your friends.”
Facebook may also be hoping that it can use Instagram as a proxy to capture a fickle, yet extremely important, demographic: teens. Facebook’s chief financial officer acknowledged for the first time in October that the social network had seen a “decrease in daily users among younger teens.”
Nevertheless Instagram continues to grow. In October, the app boasts 36 million unique users, a 66 percent increase over the same month last year. A full quarter of U.S. smartphone owners used Instagram’s iOS and Android apps in October, writes the Huff Post.