Insta(nt)-messaging – coming soon to Instagram?

Coren Hanley

11 December 2013

Instagram has had a busy year. Following its acquisition by Facebook last year, the once-small mobile imaging app has launched video and advertising within a rather short space of time. It also finally built a Windows Phone app, which is probably the biggest Instagram-related news story of 2013 for people like me, who were previously side-lined; watching all our friends become “amazing” photographers while we were stuck using traditional black and white and sepia filters for our photographic masterpieces.

There are now reports that Instagram is going to launch a private messaging feature – probably largely influenced by owner Facebook, which is at war with Whatsapp to be the number one social messaging app.

From a competitive stance, you can see why Instagram might want to introduce private messaging. Image sharing apps like Snapchat have become extremely popular over a short space of time - particularly amongst younger audiences - so the top dogs at Instagram might be beginning to sweat just a bit. For those of you who have been hiding under a rock, or simply aren’t within Snapchat’s largely teenage demographic, users of Snapchat can send each other private images which self-destruct within a specified timeframe (for example, 10 seconds). These images aren’t public, and (unless you screenshot them) can’t be saved anywhere. If this wasn't motivation enough, Twitter has announced it'll allow users to send images to eachother via Direct Message. With these developments, Instagram probably won't want to be left behind.

Introducing new features like this might also be necessary for Instagram’s long term. Think of Instagram as a company, rather than a mobile app - companies are always looking to grow and expand their product offerings, so this might simply be what Instagram is trying to do. Imagine if Instagram just stopped where it is now. Would it be able to attract more users? And would its existing user base remain snap-happy, or just get bored and trickle out?

Despite these two cases for Instagram introducing private messaging, the sceptic in me is left wondering whether it’s really the right idea. The thing I love about Instagram is its simplicity – you can take a photo, add some filters, and upload within a few seconds. You can then “like” your friends’ photos with just a tap of the screen. Adding private messaging adds a new layer of complexity to the app, which might turn some users off.

Private messaging also bears the risk of Instagram shying away from its origins – image sharing. Will private messaging allow users to send paragraphs of text to their friends, or will it strictly be image focused? Users and brands love Instagram for its ability to share creative photos. Allowing too much text would almost certainly be a shift in Instagram’s business model. A shift which some users might not appreciate.

When I started this blog I thought Instagram messaging was a stupid idea. I’m still a bit unsure as to whether it’ll really take off, but I can see the logic behind the move. I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for news from Instagram following their upcoming press event on December 12.