Popular photo sharing app Instagram is expanding its functionality with the launch of a new direct messaging platform today. The new feature, called Instagram Direct, will allow people to send private photos to a maximum of 15 users. Users can communicate below the photo messages in an ongoing conversation thread and see when others have viewed and liked the photo. Photo messages from strangers are diverted to a separate “pending requests” inbox so users won’t see their accounts flooded with spam.
The new tool 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. Unlike Snapchat’s ephemeral pictures, Instagram Direct’s photos won’t disappear after a few seconds. CEO Kevin Systrom said this was a 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.”
However, Systrom said Instagram Direct could one day lift some of Snapchat’s other features, such as allowing users to draw directly on photos.
Mobile messaging has become a highly competitive field for tech companies. Earlier this week Twitter overhauled its direct messaging client allow users to send photos. Facebook, which owns Instagram, also has a popular messaging app. Currently, Instagram has no monetization plans for the new feature, though Systrom said brands could utilize it to solicit photos for contests and other promotions. Instagram only just introduced sponsored posts into its regular stream in October.