What is Instagram’s next big thing? Messaging, perhaps

Instagram, known as a visual communication platform, is looking for way to expand its appeal to its community of 200 million (and growing) users. First it was short-form video and next up is messaging.

Well-placed sources tell us that the company is gearing up to launch new private messaging features inside its still red-hot photo and video sharing service. It is also experimenting with the idea of group messaging, our source tells us. The new features are likely to find home in the next version of Instagram, which is expected before end of the year. An Instagram spokesperson (not surprisingly) declined to comment.

The upgrade timing makes perfect sense: With the holidays around the corner and smartphones as likely hot gift items, many people are going to experience Instagram for the first time and they should perhaps start with a brand new experience. Instagram also is in a battle for attention with newer visual services such as Snapchat, which was rumored to have received a $3 billion buyout offer from Facebook (s FB), the corporate parent of Instagram. Google is rumored to have made a $4 billion offer for Snapchat as well.

Instagram web badges

It is fundamentally my belief that most applications need a layer of communication — comments and lightweight signals such as Facebook’s likes are part of that layer. And so is messaging. The web (and Internet in general) is getting closer to being synchronous, and alive, a concept I had described in my essay, The Alive Web.

….one that goes beyond the hackneyed marketing terms such as real-time web, a buzz word of 2009 and 2010. One of the reasons why it failed is because it was attached to the idea of information — real-time information, instead of focusing on people and what we do in real time — interact.

Many of the Alive Web’s early proponents have failed mostly because they were either too early — the networks weren’t ready — or they were just paying attention to the behavior dynamics of their communities. Obviously scaling services isn’t as easy. Messaging on Instagram makes perfect sense. Instagram might have started out as a photographer’s platform, but it has since evolved into something that creates social connections between people and has led to an entirely different kind of social graph. Photos can lead to connections and connections lead to communication, sometimes more intimate and immediate communication.

That said, my usual concern with any new Instagram upgrade and any new feature still and will always remain its effect on the experience. The app’s simple and easy interface is the key differentiation for the service and any diversion from that core philosophy in the name of new features can be really detrimental.