While great for sharing square—and now landscape and portrait—photos, Instagram was never the best way to message friends. Now, the company is completely overhauling its messaging experience, making Instagram Direct a much more robust platform for messages.
According to Instagram software engineer Brina Lee, 85 million users send photos and comments privately through the messaging system on Instagram. But with 300 million people using the service, that means less than one-third found the direct messaging function helpful.
The app’s lackluster messaging design and limited features made it frustrating to use. It was possible to share photos privately via Instagram Direct, but basically identical to the way a user would share one publicly. “Messages,” were essentially photo comments.
With an update, Instagram Direct intends to catch up to established messaging apps. You’ll be able to send threaded conversations, start group messages, and share photos, hashtags, and locations directly via the photo or page on Instagram. The new Instagram messaging feature has a “selfie quick-cam,” meaning you can send your reactions or other photos in response to your friends’. The app also supports emoji messages.
Any new group member added to a group direct message will be able to see the entire chat history. Instagram has also added an additional privacy feature for people who receive messages from friends they don’t follow. “Message requests,” will appear at the top of your Instagram Direct inbox, and you can see their profile, what they’re trying to send you, and block them if necessary. You can move these messages to the main inbox once you’ve decided it’s worth keeping in touch.
Group messaging and sharing privately directly from Instagram will make the direct messaging feature much more compelling to use. I regularly copy Instagram links and send them to a friend’s Twitter group chat, so by cutting out a few extra steps, Instagram is simplifying the ways we can share while keeping us in the app.
It’s easy to start and name your group and keep conversation threaded, and it will be convenient for topic-based chats—for instance, if you’re going on a vacation with friends, you could start a group message containing links to Instagram photos or locations where you want to travel.
While it might seem useless to have yet another way to message friends, Instagram is smart in implementing private chats, especially group messaging. Many of us have siloed social media accounts, with different friends lists on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. By enabling group chats and a messaging feature that actually lets people send and receive messages like most other chat apps, Instagram is giving us a way to connect with those people we know through Instagram without adding them to social circles on Facebook or Twitter.
Instagram’s new messaging makeover will also help prevent accidental shares—because Instagram Direct previously looked so similar to Instagram proper, it was easy to mistakenly share a photo with your friends that might have been meant for someone privately.
The messaging updates are available today for iOS and Android.
Illustration by Jason Reed