Is Instagram Direct Facebook’s attempt at Snapchat?

Instagram Co-Founder Kevin Systrom validated a rumor Thursday morning, confirming that Instagram is adding direct messaging. Through a feature called Instagram Direct, users can send photos and have private chats with one or more friends.

Many people felt that this was Facebook’s way of integrating a key feature of Snapchat, which reportedly rejected a $3 billion offer from the social network. However, there’s still a major thing that sets Snapchat apart from Instagram, even with this messaging ability.

Systrom noted in his announcement that Instagram is about more than photos. Especially since its acquisition by Facebook, Instagram is about communication. Until now, there has been no simple or direct way for the 150 million Instagram users (roughly half of them use it every day, according to Systrom) to take a photo with the app and send it to one or a group of friends. Instagram Direct solves this problem.

Through Instagram Direct, which is available as part of the newest Instagram update in the App Store or Google Play, an Instagram user can take a photo, add a filter, and send it to someone they follow. If someone they’re not following sends a photo, they can choose to accept or deny this through a feature that works similar to Facebook’s “Other” messaging folder. Instagram users can start a message with as many as 15 people.

Systrom described what this capability means for Instagram:

Over the last few years, if you’re on Instagram, you’ve built up this really wonderful network of people who follow you. Some of them are your friends, some of them are your family, and some of them might even be people you’ve met through Instagram. … But you know, sometimes you want to be able to share, not with everyone, but just with a specific group.

Let’s say you’re at a concert, your favorite band goes on, and they’re performing your favorite song and you take a video and you want to share it with your friends who happen to love that band? You can’t really do that on Instagram today. Nor, if you cook a beautiful meal and you want to share it with just your foodie friends, can you actually share it with just your foodie friends, you have to share it with everyone. Let’s imagine you’re walking in New York, thousands of miles away from where you live, and you see something that reminds you of that special person and you want to send it just to them. The truth of the matter is that Instagram does not work this way today.

That’s why we stepped back and said … “What would we build if we wanted to allow you to send to anyone you want, whenever you want?”

Immediately, some people thought that this was Facebook and Instagram’s way of competing directly with popular disintegrating messenger Snapchat, which didn’t want to be owned by Facebook. What many teens and young users love about Snapchat is not that they can send photos and videos to friends, since there are a variety of ways to do that, but the fact that these messages delete themselves. On Facebook and Instagram, what’s there is there and there’s some sort of record. Even when you try to de-activate a Facebook profile, it is still saved for you when you come back.

Young users know this, and they want a platform that isn’t built on saved history. Messages sent through Snapchat only last a few seconds and then are gone forever. This means that embarrassing photos or private moments are deleted for good in a matter of moments. While this is a very necessary feature for Instagram to have, it might not be the direct Snapchat competitor that people believe.

Readers: Do you agree?

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