USA TODAY - Instagram is adding private messaging. The Facebook-owned photo-sharing social network announced the new service called Instagram Direct at a press event in Manhattan.
"Sometimes you want to be able to share not with everyone but just with a specific group," says Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom.
The service, available today in Apple's App Store and Google Play through an app update, lets you choose to share an individual photo or video with all of your Instagram followers as before, or with up to 15 people on your Instagram Direct contact list. Though I haven't had a chance for hands-on testing, it appears simple enough -- you can tap on Followers or Direct buttons at the top of the app.
Instagram currently has more than 150 million members, up from 80 million at the start of the year.
From within Direct, you can exchange text messages that accompany the photos you send via Direct and engage in a back and forth conversation. You can't otherwise send text-only messages or forward pictures.
The only people that can send photos to you are the people you follow, Systrom says, but that doesn't mean you can't get pictures from a stranger. Instead, those images end up in a pending requests pile -- from where you have the option to view them.
"Honestly, our guidance is to not accept (pictures) from people that you don't know," Systrom says.
As for the people who are on your list, you'll know that they've seen what you've sent when their own profile picture materializes with a checkmark. When they like the picture, the checkmark turns to a heart.
It seems too bad that for now you can't place your Instagram Direct contacts into specific groups, such as one for classmates or another for your foodie pals. Systrom suggested that the feature is very much on the drawing board but "we wanted to keep version one as simple as possible." He added that the people with whom you do share the most, will bubble up to the top of your Direct list.
Systrom declined to go into any depth on how Instagram and Facebook might monetize the new feature, and said it's way too early to talk about advertising.
But he says he has given a lot of thought about the dynamic between regular Instagram and Instagram Direct. "Sometimes, you see something but it's not meant for the larger group."
What he does expect is that folks will take a lot more photos.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)