Expanding the range of its mobile photo sharing service, Instagram introduced Instagram Direct, which allows users to send photos or short videos to a specific user or group of users.
The feature "is a really fun way to bring people together around photos and videos, just like you would at home," said Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, at a press conference Thursday in New York.
Systrom likened the new service to sharing physical photos with a group of friends, where you "take out the old shoe box, sit around the table and show people photos of your vacation."
The feature expands Instagram's role as a conduit for sharing photos with the public to include direct person-to-person communications, or communications among a more intimate group of people, Systrom said.
As it was originally designed, Instagram allows users to post photos they have taken on their phones so that anyone who follows a photo feed can see them. Instagram Direct allows a user to specify up to 15 people who can see a photo or video clip.
Systrom said the feature, which can be used for both photos and Instagram's 15-second video format, is particularly apt for sharing photos and video clips with a subset of followers who might be interested in a particular topic. Someone at a concert, for instance, might post images or clips from the show to people who are actually interested in that act. Or a more intimate photo can be shared between two people.
Once the photo is posted to the group, anyone in the selected group can add comments to the photo, creating a private space for a potential conversation around the image. Additional images can also be posted in the group. The sender of the photo will know when a recipient has seen the photo when that person's profile picture appears under the photo.
Users can share photos only with the people who follow them. If they want to share a snap or clip with someone who doesn't follow them, the intended recipient will get an alert, which will pop up in a new inbox that has been added to the share screen in the upper right-hand corner, that a photo has been shared. That person is offered the choice of accepting the photo or declining it.
Instagram will not "proactively" monitor private photo sessions, though will respond to complaints from users about potential abuse of the service, Systrom said.
Instagram Direct is available in a new version of the Instagram mobile app, which was posted Thursday for both Android and iOS devices.
Instagram has 150 million users, about half of which use the service on a daily basis, according to Systrom.