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On Thursday morning, Instagram CEO and cofounder Kevin Systrom introduced a new feature for his popular photo-sharing app that lets users send photos or videos to individual friends and groups of friends who also use the app. While it sounds like a pretty obvious addition, the announcement likely points to something else: Instagram is getting increasingly nervous about fast-growing competitor Snapchat.

So it should be. Snapchat, which lets users send photo and video messages to friends that disappear within a short time, has over 30 million active users each month who reportedly send northward of 400 million “snaps” per day (a figure that probably counts each person that a user sends a message to as a “snap,” even if a single message is sent to multiple people). Regardless, that’s a lot of growth for a company that started in 2011.

Instagram, by comparison, has over 150 million active monthly users who are uploading 55 million photos per day. It was started in 2009, and purchased by Facebook last year for $1 billion.

Instagram’s owner, Facebook, tried to compete with Snapchat directly last year by unveiling Poke, an app that let users send vanishing messages (see “Facebook’s Poke App Lets You Send Vanishing Messages”). It never took off with users, though, and Facebook has barely mentioned it since. The company is also believed to have tried snapping up Snapchat this year for $3 billion. Snapchat didn’t bite, and just raised a $50 million Series C funding round.

Instagram has has been slowly adding new features, such as the ability to take and share videos (which it rolled out in June). But it also seems like an attempt to satisfy users who may be tempted by the direct communication Snapchat and its ilk offer. Making images ephemeral as well might be too obvious for now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that added in the near future.

 

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