Blog, Freelancing

Why Instagram Direct won’t be the Snapchat killer it wants to be


Two major events happened last week. Beyoncé dropped an album like it was no big deal and Instagram rolled out a new messaging feature. Guess which one the verdict is out on? I’ll give you a hint. She has a baby named Blue Ivy.

The jury is still not out on Instagram Direct which lets you send photos or videos to up to 15 of your friends at a time. You can see who likes the photos or comments on it, and groups of people can have conversations without the whole world seeing. Instagram Direct will not let you create lists or circles of friends but it will learn to see who you often send photos to and bring those names up more. You can also send people who don’t follow you videos and pictures. They can then choose to accept it or not and they don’t have to follow you if they do choose to see it.

This is a big move for the service, which up until now has been either all (meaning sharing your photos with anyone to see) or nothing (totally private.) Instagram Direct now makes it more of a communication tool (and not just a vehicle for showing Cronuts from every possible angle) which CEO Kevin Systrom believes it fundamentally is. During a New York City event announcing Instagram Direct Systrom said, “Not all photos have to be super meaningful. They can be about brunch. But I don’t think this is just brunch, it’s a visual status message. It’s about telling your friends where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re eating. It’s revolutionary. An image’s ability to communicate with the world is unparalleled.”

But is Instagram Direct necessarily a game changing hit? Clearly most people are saying Instagram released this as a response to the overwhelming popularity (not to mention Facebook’s desire to acquire) of SnapChat. However, they are different in that SnapChat is a fleeting series of pictures and Instagram Direct is attempting to launch a discussion using visuals. But though Systrom says Instagram is a form of communication, should it really be trying to migrate from a broadcasting tool to a personalized messaging system? Josh Constine of TechCrunch says no. He wrote:

Instagram found a place in our hearts as an app for broadcasting moments. Take a photo (or later a video) and share it publicly, and specifically, to people who follow you. Now Instagram wants us to use it for private sharing. Take a photo or video and send it to one person or a small group. Those are entirely distinct species of communication.

Convincing a userbase to break their ingrained behavior pattern and use an app for something completely different is a tough sell. And it’s a lot tougher if that “something different” is actually “something you can do elsewhere”.

It has been criticized for not being ephemeral like SnapChat which means even if you are sending a photo to friends, you better be pretty darn happy about how you look cause it ain’t going anywhere (and please consider that for those of you who may be fan of the racier photos.) Will Oremus of Slate insists that the name is what is dragging it down. Unlike the classic IM me or GChat me, Instagram Direct is hard to make, well, for lack of a better word, snappy. He wrote,

“What the heck are you supposed to say if you want someone to send you a photo via Instagram Direct? Some ideas:

  • “Instagram Direct me” (too unwieldy)
  • “Direct me” (too subservient)
  • “ID me” (semantically ambiguous)”

But maybe the real issue is that we use Instagram on our phones, which as you may recall has about seven different other platforms for communication, including those with visuals, available. It also makes you wonder is Instagram Direct a much-needed neccessity or an afterthought?

What do you think about Instagram Direct so far?