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Instagram takes on rivals with direct messaging feature

Picture sharing site Instagram has introduced a new private messaging service as it looks to follow in the success of its rivals.

Instagram Direct allows users to send photo and video messages to groups of up to 15 people that follow them on the Facebook-owned app, rather than publishing them for all their followers to see at once.

The launch of the feature is yet another update this year that signals Instagram's intent to reposition itself as a communication app, not just a photography app.

"If we were about photography we'd be built into cameras, but we're not, we're built into phones," said Instagram founder Kevin Systrom at an event in New York yesterday.

In a crowded market, Instagram Direct allows the app to compete on a new level with rivals like Twitter, Whatsapp and Snapchat. However, Systrom quashed the idea of a disappearing photo option like Snapchat being added to its service.

In a blogpost announcing the launch, Instagram said: "As we've grown, Instagram has evolved not only into a community of photographers, but also into a means of visual communication. Every Instagram moment contains something you find special—something you broadcast to your followers when you tap 'share'.

"There are, however, moments in our lives that we want to share, but that will be the most relevant only to a smaller group of people—an inside joke between friends captured on the go, a special family moment or even just one more photo of your new puppy. Instagram Direct helps you share these moments."