Instagram pushes deeper into messaging

The app's direct messaging feature is gaining new functions

Instagram is making it easier for its 300 million photo-sharing users to communicate via private messages.

Instagram Direct, the messaging component of the popular photo-sharing app owned by Facebook, has gained new tools. Although it was launched in 2013, Instagram Direct's presence in the app hasn't felt substantial. The changes, which are rolling out Tuesday, are designed to make it easier to access the feature, and keep users active within it. It's the first time Instagram Direct has been updated, according to a Facebook representative.

The changes underscore the importance of messaging to Facebook and its various mobile apps, as rivals continue to add messaging functions to mobile services of their own.

Previously, users could enter the messaging feature by tapping on a box icon in the top right corner of their feed. Under the changes, a new arrow icon will also appear next to the "like" and comment icons under every post.

Users can tap the arrow to send the post to a friend or a small group as a message with Instagram Direct.

This function is aimed at giving users a new way to let their friends know about certain posts, which many users currently do by using the "@" function to mention them in comments.

As before, users can also send photos or videos as direct messages by tapping "Direct" during the normal photo sharing process.

But inside the messaging feature, users no longer have to start a new conversation every time they want to send a photo or video. Threads are organized and retained based on the people in them, like an SMS text session.

Users can now also add names to their messaging groups. And there's a camera feature built into the thread, to let users take photos on the fly.

Photos and videos sent using the messaging feature are still only visible to people who could already see them, Instagram said in a blog post on Tuesday.

The changes roll out Tuesday for iOS and Android.

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