Instagram unveils ‘Direct’, says it’s not taking aim at Snapchat

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Instagram mobile

If you can’t buy them, build a competitor. In the run up to the launch of Instagram’s ‘Direct’ service, that’s the approach many thought Facebook was following with Snapchat and its own photo service. Following its début today though, that doesn’t really appear to be the case.

The new service, unveiled at a New York event today, means that you can send your Instagram photos to anyone you choose to. So, for instance you can send it to all your followers, just one person or even a select group of people you’ve curated.

Before you send the photo though, you can still crop and filter your photos and videos just like you can on the vanilla Instagram app.

Instagram Direct also allows you to see when someone has viewed your photo and informs you immediately if they’ve liked it. Oh, and for immediate conversation, there’s chat functionality included too.

“This is important because Instagram is a two-way street,” Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said at the event.

In a bid to make sure that your inbox doesn’t end up flowing over because of the new feature, Instagram has adopted the Facebook Inbox model. That means if you follow someone, they can send photo and video messages straight to your inbox. If however you don’t follow someone, they can still send you messages. The only difference is that it’ll go to the pending section of your inbox.

Given the large community Instagram already has (150-million, as per its official blog post on the release), the new feature could be seen as a bid by Facebook to counter the threat posed by Snapchat, the instant photo messaging service that recently turned down a US$3-billion offer from the big blue social network.

Addressing a question from the floor though, Systrom seemed to suggest that competing with Snapchat isn’t really the aim of Instagram Direct.

“Instagram is focused on capturing and sharing the world’s moments and what we’re best at is archiving those moments and sharing with your friends,” he said.

There are other, very good, reasons why a messaging service makes sense for Instagram. As TechCrunch’s Josh Constantine notes, the service has pretty much developed beyond public sharing. The people who use Instagram most heavily have organised themselves into communities and they need ways to post to those communities beyond using hashtags.

Instagram Direct solves that to some degree, although the number of people you can use the service to share a photo with is somewhat limited.

According to Systrom, being able to share with 15 people at a time made sense as kind of a rough limit, but it seems we could see a markup on that in the near future.

It also represents a much more cogent way for brands to engage on the platform. If you follow a brand on Instagram for instance, it means they can target personalised messages directly at you, or they could ask for people who follow them to send in images and videos for a campaign with a much lower risk of embarrassing entries making their way into the public sphere.

Indeed, the limit on the number of people you can broadcast to means that, in the former instance, brands will be forced to foster smaller, more intimate communities. And as far as I can see, that’s pretty much always going to be a good thing.

Instagram Direct will come with the latest updates to Instagram’s Apple and Android apps, available today. Windows Phone users will have to wait until they can use the service as their version of Instagram will remain in Beta for now.

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