Hoping to tap into the same allure that’s drawing many people to messaging apps like Snapchat, the head of Facebook’s Instagram service showed off a new feature Thursday that allows users to send photos and text messages directly to individual friends or small groups instead of sharing them with a larger audience.
The announcement from Instagram founder Kevin Systrom came just a few days after Twitter said its users can now incorporate photos into the “Direct Messages” they can send to individuals, instead of broadcasting them to the entire Twittersphere.
Each service is slightly different, but they’re going after the same appeal: Despite the encouragement of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who believes it’s good to share more and more, some people – including teens – just like the idea of sending messages on a more private basis. And before you say that’s all about sexting and shirtless selfies, note that many kids say they just want to be able to to send a goofy photo or an in-joke to a friend without sharing it with the larger world.
That was part of the pitch that Systrom made in a New York City press event, which was webcast Thursday morning. Still, while he didn’t dwell on it, there’s one key difference between Instagram’s new service and Snapchat: photos sent by Instagram Direct remain in the receiver’s account, rather than disappearing after several seconds as they do on Snapchat. (Isn’t that also part of the Snapchat appeal?)
Systrom dressed up his presentation with some high-minded platitudes about art and social interaction, but he also shared an interesting statistic: Instagram now has 150 million users, up from 80 million at the start of the year, and more than half use the service every day.
That’s got to be music to the ears of folks at Facebook, who are constantly being asked if they worry about younger users defecting to other social networks.