Instagram plays defense and releases Instagram Direct

The war for our attention rages on.

Allow me to propose a timeline for how Instagram Direct, a feature inside of Instagram 5.0 that allows users to share photos with one or many people rather than with all of Instagram, more than likely came to be:

  • Snapchat becomes a leading photo-sharing service.
  • Snapchat turns down a ~$3B+ acquisition offer from Facebook*
  • Facebook’s Instagram team begins working on private photo messaging.
  • Twitter moves to where the puck is going, allows photos in Direct Messages.
  • Today Instagram releases “Instagram Direct”.

Instagram is trying to be the very best way to share photos. Not entire photo albums of your vacation but photos of what is happening right now. Introducing Instagram Direct makes a lot of sense and fits in with their mission. However, today, I believe, Instagram lost the ball and is now playing defense. Today is when Instagram began reacting to outside pressure and releasing something because they thought they had to rather than because they wanted to.

Some would say this moment happened earlier when Instagram released Instagram Video in response to Vine. I don’t believe that is true. Instagram Video was well executed, incredibly well designed, and far better than anything Vine had released to-date and they are still way ahead on that front. In fact, it appears Vine and Instagram Video have found footing on their own ground and no longer compete for the same type of usage. When Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram, released Instagram Video he said it had been in the works for a while and I believed him.

Instagram Direct, however, isn’t in the same league as Instagram Video. It works well enough but it doesn’t have the same polish that we’ve come to expect from Instagram. And it is an obvious rip of Snapchat. With hundreds of millions of users on Instagram and growing this will be used a ton and pull some usage away from Snapchat and achieve Facebook’s goal. However, I believe Instagram had a real opportunity here to make something truly better than what is currently available.

Have you ever tried to use MMS or iMessage to send photos or videos to your friends? It is a terrible experience. And don’t even talk about iCloud Photo Sharing. It is worse than terrible. Instagram could have released something that blew away Snapchat, iCloud, MMS, and iMessage. After using Instagram Direct today I can confidently say they haven’t.