New Instagram Direct delivers private image-sharing

The photo-sharing service introduces the ability to send photos and videos to specific users.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
2 min read
Kevin Systrom unveils Instagram Direct
CEO Kevin Systrom at the launch of Instagram Direct. Sara Tew/CNET

Instagram is now offering Instagram Direct, the ability to send images to users, instead of broadcasting your photos publicly.

The photo-sharing network's CEO, Kevin Systrom, reiterated that Instagram is not about photography, but about communication.

"If we were about photography, we'd be built into cameras," he said at a press conference in New York on Thursday. "But, we're not built into cameras. We're built into phones."

(Click to enlarge) Instagram

Users will be able to send photos or videos directly to up to 15 people at a time. To share the image privately, you can use the one-to-one button at the bottom of the screen. You'll be able to tell when the person has seen the photo by showing you a checkmark, similar to how Facebook messaging alerts you that someone has seen your message.

You can only get these direct images from people you follow, otherwise you will get a message in a "pending requests" area.

The new feature is available on both iOS and Android.

With 150 million active users, Instagram has grown quickly since its launch three years ago. It's been a Facebook darling for the last year, thanks to its ability to attract younger users, but this new feature shows a progression toward the next popular trend -- private messaging. Made popular by apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp, private messaging is one type of service Facebook hasn't been able to nail down. While the social network previously launched an ephemeral messaging service called Poke, it didn't have much traction.

When asked about ephemeral photo-sharing, Systrom made mention that Instagram could incorporate a more Snapchat-like approach -- that is, sending images that are only live temporarily -- in the future. He emphasized that people won't be able to forward these images and videos, only reply with a new one.

Check out more news from the event on our live blog.

Update, 7:40 am PT: Added more information about the service.