Instagram launched a private photo messaging service on Thursday, stepping up its competition in the mobile photo sharing space against emerging rivals like Snapchat.
The new service, called Instagram Direct, allows users who follow each other on the application to send photos or video as private chat messages, while Instagram until now only allowed people to post and comment on features publicly. Private photo messages can be sent to 15 people at once, and the service also suggests recipients.
The company, founded in 2010 and bought by Facebook in 2012, has boomed with the increase of mobile device use, growing from 80 million users at the start of 2013 to its current 150 million users globally.
"From how you capture photos and videos to the way you start conversations through likes and comments, we built Instagram Direct to feel natural to the Instagram experience you already know," the company said in a release.
Along with creating new opportunities for the social network to generate advertising revenue and allow private correspondence among its users, the new service could counter the growth of competitor Snapchat. Mobile photo sharing application Snapchat has become popular because it has a simple interface for sending photos and text messages, known as "snaps," which then disappear within a few seconds. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel rejected Facebook's offer to buy the company for $3 billion.