Facebook Inc.’s Instagram mobile photo-sharing application will let users send photos and videos directly to their friends, as it steps up competition against upstart messaging services such as Snapchat Inc.
The new feature, called Instagram Direct, will pop up in an icon on a user’s home feed. The tool will let people send photos and videos directly to as many as 15 friends, who can then discuss them using familiar features such as comments and the like button, the company said at an event in New York. The new services will be available to users today.
“It’s like gathering people around a photo, a moment, and being able to have a conversation about them,” Kevin Systrom, chief executive officer of Instagram, said at the event.
Instagram is adding tools to fend off increasing competition from Twitter Inc. and newer messaging startups, including WhatsApp Inc., Kik Interactive Inc. and Snapchat, all of which have garnered large user bases. Facebook last month offered to buy Snapchat, which lets users send photos that disappear once they’re viewed, for about $3 billion and was turned down, a person with knowledge of the situation has said.
“This new Instagram feature is kind of like Snapchat without the snap, or like Twitter direct messages, but with a group,” said Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner Inc. “It’s like everybody is getting together and thinking, ‘How can we offer the same thing?’ The features themselves are cool but companies are having a hard time offering anything innovative or different.”
Facebook, whose social network has more than 1 billion members, purchased Instagram for about $700 million last year, and it’s using the app to help it reach users on smartphones and tablets. The company has been updating the service, including adding the ability to take videos in June. In October, Instagram started letting advertisers deliver pictures to its 150 million users. Today, Systrom said it’s too early to talk about using direct messaging for advertising.
While Instagram may keep developing new capabilities, such as the ability to draw on photos, it’s unlikely to make messages disappear like Snapchat does, Systrom said. Instagram’s service is more suited to being an archive, he said.
“Snapchat has their own market and they are going after it in a really unique way,” Systrom said. “The way we’ve done it is just very different.”
Twitter, whose microblogging service lets people post 140-character status updates, photos and videos to followers and friends, earlier this week started letting users add pictures to their direct messages.
Facebook’s dominance in social media has shown some vulnerabilities with teens in recent months. While usage among U.S. teenagers was relatively stable during the third quarter on Facebook, there was a decline among younger teens who log on daily, Chief Financial Officer David Ebersman said on a conference call in October.
The Menlo Park, California-based company has occasionally been unsuccessful in developing internal products to quash competition. Facebook last year unveiled Poke, which lets people send messages, videos or photos that are only available for as long as 10 seconds to friends -- meant to be used like Snapchat. While the Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat apps are among the top 20 free programs in Apple Inc.’s App Store, Poke doesn’t make the list.
Earlier this month, Facebook said Emily White, an Instagram executive, was leaving to become Snapchat’s chief operating officer. At Instagram, she was in charge of rolling out the first ad products.