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Getting started with Instagram Direct

Everyone's favorite photo sharing network has added the ability to privately share photos and videos. Here's what you need to know to get started.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Early on ThursdayInstagram announced a new feature called Instagram Direct. The new feature allows users to privately share photos or videos with up to 15 people. Obviously this is a new direction for Instagram, as previously sharing a photo was an all-or-nothing act.

Before you can access Instagram Direct you'll need to download the update, version 5.0, from the Play Store or App Store.

All right, with that out of the way, let's begin.

Your inbox

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

You can access your Instagram Direct inbox by tapping on the mailbox icon in the top-right corner. This is where you will find all messages that you have sent or that have been sent to you. Older threads with new comments will have a small chat bubble to indicate unread comments.

Sending a private message

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

There are two different methods you can take advantage of to send a private photo or video. The first is the process you're already accustomed to. Open Instagram, take a photo or video, and apply a filter. Once you're on the Share screen you'll notice a "Direct" option at the top of the screen.

Selecting Direct will take you into the Instagram Direct user-interface where you can add a caption (if you haven't already) and select the people you would like to share the item with. You can select just one person, or up to fifteen people to send the photo to. You will need to be following the account you want to send a message to for it to show up in your list of contacts.

When you're done selecting the recipient(s) tap on the green bar along the bottom of the screen and it will be sent.

The second method for sending an Instagram Direct is to view your Direct inbox, then tap on the "+" icon. Doing so will launch the camera, where you'll then follow the same process as you normally would.

Naturally, any photos or videos you share privately will not make their way to your public Instagram feed. Although, depending on your settings the content might be saved to your device's gallery or camera roll.

Views, comments, likes

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

After sending an item through Instagram Direct, you'll be able to view it at any time in your inbox. The avatars for the people you sent it to will show up, but they may appear grayed out. The grayed-out effect indicates that individual has yet to open your message. Those who have viewed your message will have a normal avatar with a green check mark. The check mark will turn into a heart icon if they have liked the item, or a blue comment icon if the person has left a comment in your private thread.

Pending requests

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

One thing you may encounter over time is a pending request. A pending request is sent to you when someone you don't currently follow on Instagram wants to send you a message. You can either accept the request, permanently allowing that person to message you, or ignore the request, blocking the person from ever messaging you.

When you have a pending request it will show up at the bottom of your inbox.

Replying with a photo or video

You may notice when viewing a private thread using the iOS app there's a Reply button along the top of the screen. Tapping on it opens the camera, where you can take a new photo or video, and send it to everyone involved in the thread. For whatever reason, this option is missing from the Android version of the app.

What I expect to happen when doing this is for the photo to be added inline within the current thread. Instead, using the reply button starts a new thread, forcing the start of a new conversation surrounding the new item. I can see how Instagram would want to keep the focus of a conversation on the primary photo or video, but it would be nice to at least have the option to add to an existing thread, or start a new one when replying with a photo.

Managing your inbox

To keep your inbox somewhat organized, you have a couple of options. First, you can't hide photos or videos you have sent in as a message, you can only delete the thread. Deleting it removes it from your feed, as well as the recipients' inbox. When a contact has sent you an item, you're given the choice to hide it from your inbox.

Also, when viewing a message from either a contact or someone you've simply accepted messages from, you can ignore future messages from the user by tapping on the menu button when viewing a message.

What do you think about the announcement and new feature? Is it playing catchup to stay relevant, or is it something to truly add value to the social network?