How Instagram Direct Could Become a Contender in Messaging

Today, Instagram released ‘Instagram Direct.’ It’s a brilliant business move by Instagram/Facebook, and this is why: You see, even if you thought that Apple’s iMessage or Facebook’s messenger were poised to lead the race for dominance in smartphone messaging, in reality it’s a fragmented market and What’s App is killing it. Facebook knows this. So why have one horse in the race when they can have two? If you look at the interface design for Direct, it’s really a messaging app with filter-heavy photo at its core. It could be used for 1-to-1 messaging or group messages. Unfortunately, it still falls a few steps short of becoming a serious contender in messaging. And with its 150M+ users, becoming a serious contender in mobile messaging is something Instagram could easily achieve — with the two simple UI/UX changes below.  

1. Support Threads

Once you send a ‘Direct,’ there’s seemingly a thread with ability to ‘Reply’. However, replies do not appear in the same thread. Instead, Direct creates a completely new thread with the same folks. If Instagram allowed users to have an ongoing thread where photo and comments can be added, it essentially becomes a messaging app around photos. It could also increase the number of photos shared. Think about it: how often do you use iMessage to share photos? Probably often. Why wouldn’t Instagram want this on their platform?  

2. Better Support for Group Messaging

With iMessage, once a group is created its members are set in stone. There’s no way to remove or add new members. If Instagram added the ability to easily add new members to groups, this could make them a better option than iMessage. What’s more, looking at the screenshot above, I’d like to not feel like I’m talking to myself. Currently there’s no way of knowing that there are multiple participants in a message. Instead of just focusing on the author of the message, focus on the recipients, as well.  

Why Bother!

This image says it all. For Facebook to remain relevant, they need to continue owning our social graph. They’re already the dominant player in photos, but messaging is hot and that could diversify that social graph beyond what they currently have. Instagram could keep Facebook in the good graces of Gen X and Z if they could manage to facilitate both photo sharing and messaging. We can’t be sure whether or not this is their objective, but it would take two small changes in their UI/UX — so why not?   Damian Madray is Lead Product Designer at Visually, founder of Hunie and co-founder of TheGlint.

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