SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc's Instagram added new features on Tuesday allowing users to exchange messages in private and group conversations as the photo and video-sharing service aims to keep up with growing messaging service Snapchat.
The upgrade by Instagram, which has more than 300 million users, is the latest move in the escalating battle for a young audience addicted to messaging with younger and hipper rival Snapchat, which has 100 million users and growing.
The new features mean Instagram users can share pictures directly with one friend or a group of people and send back text responses or pictures, which Instagram hopes will make users want to stay on its mobile app or web site longer.
Young mobile users are increasingly interested in messaging friends and having conversations online, rather than merely viewing content. As much as 40 percent of all comments on Instagram posts mention other accounts, Instagram said, suggesting that many users like to flag content to users they know and start conversations about it.
The move comes a week after Instagram upgraded its service to allow new layout options in addition to its signature square for pictures and videos, which was viewed as a move to compete better with Snapchat.
Snapchat, which is popular partly because messages on its platform disappear after a few seconds, already offered a variety of picture and video formats. Earlier this year, Snapchat upgraded its service so users could exchange text messages in response to photos and videos.
Many social sites and apps have added specialized messaging features recently in a bid to keep users.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, launched its Messenger service as a standalone app earlier this year, and added a virtual assistant called 'M' last week that can complete tasks for users such as shopping.
On Tuesday, LinkedIn Corp said it would revamp its inbox with new apps and designs that mimic chat services.
(Reporting By Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Bill Rigby)