With its latest update, Instagram wants you to treat it like a serious messaging app

Instagram Direct

In a massive change to its popular photo sharing app, Instagram is reimagining itself as a part-time messaging service.

The company today announced a complete reworking of its often-forgotten Instagram Direct functionality.

To start, gone are the days where sending a message to a friend will start a new conversation each time you contact that person; instead, sending a contact a photo or video starts a message thread now. It’s also possible to name a thread—in the video sent out with the announcement, seen below, two friends share pictures of their cats in the appropriately named “Cat Lovers” group. The company has also added a quick selfie button and emoji are now “larger-than-life”.

The company has also reworked how users can bring a post to their followers’ attention.

In this regard, mentions will still remain an integral part of the Instagram experience, but now there’s a new arrow icon next to comment and like icons that users can tap to send a post to friend or group via Instagram Direct. The post will appear as a message in the ongoing conversation you’re having with a friend, and anyone in the thread can click on it to view the original post or video.

While not quite the landmark change that was the addition of landscape and portrait formatted photos last week, this is still a significant change for Instagram. While well-intentioned, the Instagram Direct that launched in 2013 felt like an afterthought compared to the rest of the app.

That fact was borne out in the smaller number of people that used the feature compared to Instagram proper. According to The Verge, about 85-million people used Direct on a regular basis, a still significant number, to be sure, but a number that represents less than a third of the Instagram’s 300-million total user base. With Direct turning Instagram into a full-fledged messaging service, that number is sure to change.

The reworked Instagram Direct is available with version 7.5 of the Android and iOS app, though it appears the company is rolling out the new features in a phases; I was only to able to use the old Direct.