How Instagram Direct Delivers Messaging

How the new service differs from rivals

Instagram revealed its direct photo messaging service today, and it’s entering a crowded field. The Facebook-affiliated company is trying to steal some of the excitement surrounding Snapchat. Twitter did the same this week with its own direct message service upgrades.

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom addressed the new messaging rivalry while showing off Instagram Direct at an event in New York. Systrom said that Instagram is keeping photos at the core of communicating among friends, while Twitter’s texting roots are the focus of his rival.

Instagram Direct has been tested within the company for the past couple months, and it rolled out today with basic functionality. Here’s a look at how the service will and won’t work:

  • Users can select up to 15 people with whom to share direct posts.
  • A sender will know if a photo has been viewed by checking the profile pictures of recipients, which change status after the message was opened. A recipient’s profile picture shows up as faded until the photo is viewed.
  • A heart on the recipient’s profile picture indicates if they “like” the photo.
  • Will there be sharing of explicit photos? Systrom notes that there is a report function if someone receives offensive content, but he also said privately shared messages aren’t monitored.
  • You can only share direct messages with users who follow you.
  • If users want to share direct photos with users they don’t follow then their messages go to a Pending Requests folder.
  • The service does not offer Snapchat-like disappearing photos that go away after being viewed for short periods of time.
  • There are no creative tools to draw on images the kind some messaging apps offer.
  • For now, there is no way to arrange and save private groups to continually send direct messages. Users have to pick the recipients individually every time.
  • Messaging requires a photo—users can’t just text each other.