Oh great, another messaging app

HENRY COOKE
Last updated 12:25 13/12/2013
DIRECT: Instagram today unveiled its new service that lets users send images and messages privately.
DIRECT: Instagram today unveiled its new service that lets users send images and messages privately.

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Let’s say you see something cool and you want to show a few people, but not the world. You have a smartphone, so you whip it out and get the camera ready - but where to next?

You could Snapchat it, Facebook it, Kik it, WhatsApp it, Twitter DM it, iMessage it, you could even use MMS. The app store is your oyster.

Herein lies the problem - too much choice.

If there was one definitive messaging platform, then you could be sure to send it to everyone you desired immediately.

With so many options, it’s hard to know which one all your friends are using. Into this glut comes a new challenger - Instagram Direct.

So does the world need another messaging app? 2013 feels like the year ‘private’ struck back, with users everywhere deciding they didn’t want their entire digital lives in the public sphere.

Snapchat is this philosophy’s logical conclusion: photo messages that are exclusive to both person and time.

Instagram’s Direct service looks like a more polished Snapchat, offering permanence, filters, and even the ability to ‘like’ messages.

Snapchat’s pictures just never look that pretty, which is kind of the point, and Instagram are attempting to exploit that.

That’s dismissing the raft of other popular messaging apps floating around right now – but Snapchat is the other major player which focuses exclusively on your camera (Instagram Direct conversations must begin with a photo or video.)

But do Instagram have a chance of becoming a player here?

Well, they’ve solved the largest problem of new messaging apps already: users.

You need people to send messages to for one of these things to work, which Instagram already has - 75 million people use Instagram daily.

These are people you don’t have to convince to sign up: they are already using Instagram, as are all of their friends.

Currently, when I think “messaging service that all of my friends use”, I think Facebook. Even people without smartphones have Facebook.

I use Facebook for ‘chat’ more than any other app, mostly because I can guarantee that whoever I want to talk to will see the message pretty fast.

But while it allows it, Facebook Messenger has never worked nicely with photos, and it’s still Facebook, which turns off some users. Instagram has that “everyone is on it” potential, but for photos and videos, and it isn’t Facebook – although Facebook do own Instagram, of course.

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Plus, Instagram photos are pretty. Snapchat photos really aren’t.

Snapchat photos are intentionally low-res and rough, as this encourages you to use compulsively, rather than waiting for the perfect light or wasting time selecting a filter.

This suits Snapchat, as your photos are going to disappear anyway, but Instagram are betting that many of us want our photo messages to be a bit prettier, and a bit more permanent.

Given their built-in userbase and the relative immaturity of this market, I do think Instagram have a chance of making a decisive entrance into photo/video messaging, but not dominating it.

Monopolies aren’t as easy to create on mobile, as users seem fine with having five or six different apps for each task.

Facebook monopolised desktop social networking, and are trying as hard as they can to repeat this success on mobile, but it doesn’t seem likely any time soon.

Shame, that.

Henry Cooke believes the internet is mankind's crowning achievement. Read more from him at his rectangles blog.

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