Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter: How many private messaging apps are too many?

Instagram has thrown its hat into the private messaging ring. The photo-sharing application believed that being able to share images and videos to select

Now, Instagram has thrown its hat into the private messaging ring. Being able to share images and videos to select people is seen as the logical step towards growth for the app. While it does seem like a great idea, Instagram is going head-to-head with the likes of Snapchat and Twitter, not to mention hordes of cross-platform messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Line, Kik and WeChat. Does Instagram Direct have what it takes to win the race? Or is it a case of one too many cooks?

The new addition to the app will let Android and iOS users – sorry Windows Phone lovers – send images and videos privately to a maximum of 15 contacts. Essentially, you now have a public feed and a private messaging inbox. Reminds you of something?


Newest entrant into the private messaging field


Facebook, Instagram’s parent company and currently the reigning ruler of all things social network, too has the ability to send text, videos and images to your friends. However, it’s called Chat. And that is clearly not cool enough for its audiences to use regularly as a private messaging service. So here's Instagram Direct.

When you take a step back and examine this private messaging phenomenon, it looks a little odd really. You already had social networks that let you maintain a public feed and gave you an inbox for your private gossip and funny pictures.


And then Snapchat changed things a bit. Images shared through Snapchat could only be seen for about 10 seconds, before it got deleted automatically. Apparently, self-destructing images are cool, because the app has taken off and how. Facebook tried to ape Snapchat’s success with a much-hyped app called Poke. Sadly enough, just like it has all but disappeared from the main website, the app too sank without a trace. Compounding problems for Facebook were teenagers walking away from the platform to adopt other apps and services in large numbers. Studies showed Snapchat was one of the beneficiaries of this exodus, thanks to the fact you could send racy pictures without worrying about them being stored server-side. Recent numbers have shown that the number of snaps sent daily are far higher than the number of images uploaded on Facebook daily.


Taking on Snapchat


Facebook did indeed try to up its game, not by adding a bevy of features to its product, but by attempting to buy out Snapchat outright. The company offered Snapchat $3 million to come home with it, even as Google one-upped the offer by another million dollars. Snapchat, however, having a whiff of its popularity, refused to give in and decided to remain unsold. It isn’t hard to imagine then, Facebook using Instagram to fight a proxy battle for it. What Instagram says is “catch up”, is Facebook's way of biting into the private image messaging apple.

When Instagram launched its video feature a few months ago, it brought the fight to Vine with 15-second videos with effects. What made it work was the fact that it had a whopping 150 million strong user base waiting to lap up the video feature. Direct is expected to be a similar hit on Instagram, owing to that very strong user base.

Earlier this week, Twitter too jumped into the fray with a small, but noticeable tweak to its service. For the first time ever, Twitter armed Direct Messages with the ability to send and view images privately. Sending and receiving DMs has been an integral part of the Twitter experience for most power users on the website. The joke goes that real tweets are not found on timelines but in the DMs. The feature too shares the peculiarity of having a restriction. Besides the photo, you can add only 140 characters to your message while passing them on to your friend.


When private messaging and sharing apps outnumber your friends


What makes this even more pointless is that the newest entrants, Twitter and Instagram, are not just going up against Snapchat, but also cross-platform messaging apps. The original apps, the likes of WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber and Kik, are still the first ones that come to your mind when you want to fire off an image to your friend. Surely, you will not want to sext with such cross-platform messengers, which unlike Snapchat, do actually store some info on their servers. But would you want to send out racy pictures with filters on Instagram Direct, with the possibility of Facebook watching?

Another farce is that essentially all these apps are turning into the same product. Facebook and Instagram both started out with having public streams and then added private ones. So did Twitter. Snapchat started out as a pure play private-sharing app but added a public stream called Stories later. WeChat, mainly functions as a way for users to send private messages, silly stickers and voice recordings to friends, but also has a social networking aspect.


It has turned into a me-too game. There may be a whole bunch of hybrid social-private apps on your favourite app store, but how many do you really need to talk to the same ten-odd friends you talk to on a regular basis?

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