Big Instagram update now offers ephemeral photos and live video

The Facebook-owned photo-sharing social network hopes to lure users from Snapchat and Periscope.

Screenshot
On Monday, Instagram unveils a live video feature.

Instagram users will soon be able to broadcast to their friends in real time, joining Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms in adding a live video option. 

But unlike on Facebook and some other social networks, Instagram's live videos will disappear after the broadcast is over.

The Facebook-owned photo sharing platform unveiled the new feature Monday alongside the addition of ephemeral messaging, in an announcement that elicited further ongoing speculation that the company is poised to become the new Snapchat. 

“We want Instagram to be a place where you can share all of your moments, to create a pressure-free space to do so,” Kevin Weil, the head of product at Instagram, told The New York Times, explaining that he hoped the new features would provide an alternative to sharing the posed, filtered photos for which Instagram is known. 

Snapchat, with its disappearing photos and videos, has changed the way we present ourselves and interact with others on social media in recent years, say observers, by providing a low-risk way to share images with friends. 

"Snapchat is changing the way we communicate. The app is affecting our audience, even if you don’t use the social media platform," writes Bethany Swain, a lecturer in the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, for MediaShift. "Snapchat is a free app to download and low-stakes way to experiment. It is another tool for real-time storytelling and sharing life's little moments." 

This isn't the first time Instagram has channeled Snapchat by adding new features: Earlier this year, Instagram introduced Instagram Stories, a feature that mimics Snapchat's story feature, through which users can publicly share a series of photos or videos for 24 hours. 

Much of the appeal of Snapchat, researchers have found, is the low-stakes nature of the app. In one recent study by Cornell University's Social Media Lab, users reported liking the app because they didn't have to worry that their message would be shared with an unintended person or taken out of context. 

"With so much to store mentally and digitally, users reported that they enjoy being able to have an interaction where they can be their true selves without worrying about the repercussions of their exchanges," said Cornell researcher Bin Xu in a news release.  

In an era where many people find themselves glued to their cell phones and connected to social media 24/7, some observers have also suggested that the ephemeral nature of Snapchat may remind us of more authentic human interaction, reflecting a full circle of sorts in communication habits. 

"Snapchat is like real life," writes Sujan Patel for Forbes. "A conversation had, and shared, disappears shortly after it's over. It's only between those involved, and then you're left with the memory." 

Mr. Weil of Instagram told the New York Times that while Snapchat may have sparked the trend of ephemeral photo communication, Instagram had made the model its own with unique adjustments and improvements. 

"The format is definitely something that Snapchat innovated on," Weil said. "But it's just like how hashtags started on Twitter and are used everywhere. I think this particular format is one that we will see adopted everywhere else."

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