Instagram Takes a Shot at Twitter, Snapchat, With Instagram Direct (Update 2)

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Updated from 12:55 p.m. to include analyst comments in the fourth paragraph.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Instagram has announced Instagram Direct, the ability to send pictures and videos to select users, as the popular social network becomes more like its parent Facebook we well as its chief rivals, Snapchat and Twitter .

Co-founder Kevin Systrom announced a new feature that makes Instagram more like its big brother Facebook, giving its more than 150 million users a new way to engage with each other.

Earlier this week, Twitter announced the ability to send photos via direct message as opposed to just texts. In contrast, Snapchat users can send messages to select members but they can also mark up the photos. Instagram Direct does not offer that feature.

Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia noted that it puts Instagram directly in competition with Snapchat. "Snapchat is currently very popular with young teens, an audience that FB would like to re-engage a lot more," Bhatia wrote in the note. He rates Facebook shares "buy" with a $58 price target.

Regarding monetization of the network itself, Systrom said it feels "organic," and is "very happy with the way it's going." He notes that results have been very encouraging so far.

"Instagram is about sharing moments in the world, whether it's North Korea or elsewhere in the world," Systrom said during the question and answer session.

There is only a 15-person limit on the amount of people you can send Instagram Direct messages to, but Systrom said the company would watch use cases, and could potentially alter this over time.

Right now, there is only the functionality of sending one photo at a time, but Systrom noted this is only the first version, and that could potentially happen over time.

Systrom announced that half of Instagram's users use the service daily and this feature allows people who want to see a photo, whether it's based on your dog, food, to see certain photos if you want them to. You can send messages to a group of people by selecting their names. When people view the photos, there's a check mark on the message viewed. If they like the photos, the check mark turns into a heart.

Systrom said that brands could also make use of Instagram Direct. There could be a call to action from Nike for running, which could prompt Nike to send messages to those who follow the brand. "It's way too early to think about selling advertisements in Instagram Direct right now," Systrom noted.

It's available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store today.

--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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