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It was really a matter of when, not if, Instagram would launch a private messaging service, given the success Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Kik. On Thursday, the Facebook-owned company answered that question, and a few others, with the announcement of Instagram Direct.

"Sometimes you want to be able to share not with everyone, but just with a specific group," CEO Kevin Systrom said at an event to announce the new feature on Thursday. The new feature will be available in the latest update for the Instagram app on iPhone and Android,  which will be rolled out today. 

The company also detailed the new feature in a blog post, running down exactly what Instagram users should look for to send a private message to a person or a group: Users will see a new icon at the top right corner of the app's landing page. That's your inbox. In addition to editing and posting images to a feed, Instagram users can now edit and send images to up to 15 people, rather than broadcasting them to the world.


Unlike Snapchat, Instagram direct images won't have the option of being ephemeral. Users will be able to reply to, but not forward, messages. Based on an ongoing Q and A with Systrom and other Instagram execs, it looks like the new service isn't loaded up with features, at least not yet. They've kept the first iteration blissfully simple.It's a private image messaging service, just connected into Instagram. They might add more features in the future. 

In order to prevent spam, the app will collect, but not display, messages from users who don't follow each other and mark them as "pending," so that individuals can decide for themselves whether to view the message. 

Though early rumors suggested the new feature might be a direct challenge to Snapchat, the two don't really have much of anything in common. Instagram is owned Facebook, after all, and allowing you to use their service for free and destroy all your tasty, tasty data when you're done just isn't in the cards.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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