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Instagram takes on Snapchat with direct photo messaging

Instagram has a new service that lets you send photos direct to people who follow you, called Instagram Direct.

Instagram has a new service that lets you send photos and videos direct to people who follow you, called Instagram Direct. "It's a simple way to send photos direct to your friends," according to Kevin Systrom, cardiganed co-founder of the Facebook-owned photo-sharing service.

"It's a really fun way to bring people together around photos and videos. Just like you would at home. You take out the old shoe box and show people photos of your vacation. But now in real time," Systrom said at a launch in a Christmassy New York loft today.

After taking a photo, you add your filter and choose who to share it to. There's now a Direct option, meaning it'll only go to specific people -- up to 15 of them. Once you've chosen them, you can add a message.

Like Snapchat, it tells you when the recipient has viewed the image, but there's no self-destruct time limit. Systrom demonstrated it by sharing an adorable dog with his girlfriend Nicole. "When she's opened it, her photo fades in and gets a check mark. So you know who's seen it and who hasn't," Systrom says.

"This is really important for communication because it's a two-way street. If Nicole likes the photo, the checkmark turns to a heart," Systrom says. Aww. The views and likes icons update in real time, which is pretty cool.

You can only directly message someone who follows you -- you can send a message to anyone you follow, but it will appear in a pending requests folder in their inbox, which you access from the new icon at the top right of your feed. Here's a thoroughly filtered video showing it in hipsterish action:

It's a clear attempt to head off Snapchat, and try to steal selfie traffic from IM services such as WhatsApp too. The new features are available today on iOS, Android and Windows Phone when your app updates.

Would you use Instagram to message your friends? Give a snapshot of your impressions in the comments, or over on our selfie-loving Facebook page.