Instagram corralled a bunch of tech reporters into a room today to explain the next thing the company is doing to combat rivals like Snapchat and WhatsApp. That thing is "Instagram Direct," a gussied-up picture-sharing feature that will allow you to send your brunch photos to specific groups of friends, rather than posting them on your main feed. As on the main feed, each direct photo will come with a comment thread.
There are already tons of ways to send photos to your friends, of course, including in good, old text messages. But Instagram and Facebook, its corporate parent, are clearly worried about losing the back-channel wars to newer upstarts. So they're building what is essentially a stand-alone messaging app into Instagram, on the theory that people whose friends are already on Instagram will use it instead of opening up Snapchat or WhatsApp, or – worse – using Twitter's new direct-messaging feature.
It's not a bad strategic move. (Instagram's introduction of video capability, after all, took a chunk out of Vine.) But it means that we're at the convergence point in the social-media life cycle, where everyone is just copying everyone else's incremental changes, hoping to win what is essentially a zero-sum game for users and attention. It may be a while before we see anything truly new coming out of these companies. In the meantime, there will be a lot more boring product announcements masquerading as newness, and a lot of users wondering where they should put their photos and videos.