What promised to be some big news out of Instagram at first felt like a boring seminar speech. Yahoo editor Jason O. Gilbert tweeted, “Kevin Systrom sounds like a high schooler being forced to deliver a speech on James Buchanan for AP U.S. History,” and indeed, I felt like I was watching 10th grade me drone on — one eye on my notes and the other on my stopwatch. Eventually, Systrom got to the big news — Instagram Direct, a private messaging feature that lets users snap photos and videos and share them with up to 15 other people.

If the feature sounds familiar, here’s why:

In an attempt to wrangle some users away from the immensely popular Snapchat, Instagram has decided to bring direct photo and video messaging to its platform. Unfortunately, the way it’s implemented inside Instagram is not all that different from MMS, which we’ve had for over a decade. And the messages don’t disappear like they do on Snapchat. What we wound up getting was a press conference that made this man’s prediction pretty accurate:

Now, don’t get me wrong — Instagram Direct isn’t a bad idea. And the comparison to MMS is a bit unfair, as there are surely those you’d want to share photos with but not necessarily exchange phone numbers with. And I’m sure Instagram Direct will get its fair share of usage. But I really don’t think Direct will do much for growth, especially with teens. Texts are one thing, but private photo and video messages are a bit more intimate. Instagram Direct doesn’t offer a lot when Snapchat is there with its vanishing photos and videos.

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IMG_0142Systrom went out of his way to say that, since Instagram’s launch, its core mission hasn’t necessarily been “beautiful photography,” but instead, communication — as though Instagram’s journey to this point was inevitable. The reality? Direct is long overdue, and comes off feeling more like a reaction to other apps encroaching on Instagram’s territory than the company’s desire to refocus on its mission. This type of messaging, while new to Instagram, is not an original concept (just look at parent company Facebook’s messaging feature). It’ll still be used, but I believe the company will be disappointed if it thinks this feature is a Snapchat slayer. It’s just not there yet.

You can get this new feature by updating your phone to the latest version of Instagram, either from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store.


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