Instagram Direct Arrives, Letting Users Share More Intimately

Instagram Direct, the app's newest feature, lets users share photos and video with a single user or up to a group of 15 friends.

Instagram today updated its app to include a new feature, Instagram Direct, which lets users share photos and video with a single user or a group of up to 15 people.

The updated app, version 5.0, is now in the Apple App Store and Google Play. A version for Windows Phone is in beta, coming soon. Using Direct is as simple as downloading the new app (or updating the old one) and tapping the inbox icon now located on the top right. From there, a Direct message can be sent, and sent ones can be viewed.

"Every Instagram moment contains something you find special—something you broadcast to your followers when you tap 'share,'" the company said in a Dec. 12 blog post. "There are, however, moments in our lives that we want to share, but that will be the most relevant only to a smaller group of people ... Instagram Direct helps you share these moments."

The friends you share with can like and comment on your photo or video; and if they don't, you can still see if they've viewed it. You can also use Direct to send content to people who don't follow you, though your post will go into their requests queue.

Additionally, posts sent with Instagram Direct won't (and can't) be shared to sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Users also can't tag people or user hashtags in Instagram Direct. It is, simply, about private-ish interactions, or sharing small—a societal concept with which Instagram has helped to do away.

The app currently has 150 million active monthly users, shares 55 million phones on an average day and supports 1.2 billion Likes.

Five months ago—two and a half years after its launch—Instagram added the ability to record and share video, up to 15 seconds in length, within the app.

And two months ago—a year and a half after being purchased by Facebook for $1 billion—it added ads.

Sponsored Instagram posts have a starburst icon with an arrow and the word "Sponsored" in the top-right corner, and each is vetted by Instagram for content and design quality.

While Facebook's purchase of Instagram caused some users to forecast its demise—or at least the departure of its cool cache—it continues to have millions of young users, who are tantalizing to businesses. According to Pew Research (as Time has pointed out), 43 percent of cell phone owners between the ages of 18 and 29 use Instagram, while 18 percent of the 30- to 49-year-old crowd do.

"Targeting millennials? Instagram away," said the Time report.

Instagram faces a growing cadre of rivals, however, all of which are working out how to monetize.

"Instagram is being threatened by more direct rivals such as Vine and Snapchat, but is also seeing indirect competition from popular messaging services like WhatsApp, where users are spending more time at the expense of Instagram and also Facebook itself," Ovum Principal Analyst Eden Zoller said in a Dec. 12 statement.

"This is the last thing that Facebook wants as it's working hard to drive advertising on Instagram in a bid to monetize the service. "

At a press event in New York Dec. 12, to introduce Instagram Direct, co-founder Kevin Systrom said an ad-related announcement is coming soon, though it's too early just yet to talk about ads in Instagram Direct.

"[Systrom] didn't rule out doing something in the future, but he said Instagram is currently focusing its ad efforts on the broader campaigns," TechCrunch reported Dec. 12. "A more interesting use case, he suggested, is for brand contests within user-submitted photos, with Instagram Direct as the photo collection mechanism."

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