Instagram's update to its messaging tool means the end of '@-mentioning' friends

First, the surprising news: 85 million people use Instagram’s private messaging tool, despite it falling off the Internet’s radar since its highly publicized launch in 2013. Now, the bigger news: it’s getting an update that might make more people use it.

Instagram is rolling out drastic changes to Instagram Direct. Now there are threaded messages that make it easier to send friends photos back and forth and it’s more organized to view. Previously, if users wanted to reply, they would have to start a whole new thread.

The update also includes letting people send those oversized emojis made popular on its sister social network, Facebook, and a quick camera tool so people can respond to a picture with another picture without it being uploaded to the public stream.

Arguably, the biggest change is the introduction of an arrow button to photos on the stream so people can share pictures with each other (or to groups), finally eliminating the annoying habit of tagging friends’ handles in the photo’s comments.

That’s a major change because Instagram estimates that tagging friends, or “@-mentioning” as they call it, makes up 40 percent of comments on pictures. Just take a look at a recent photo shared by the app’s most followed user, Kim Kardashian. It’s littered with tags (and spam, but one improvement at a time, we guess!).

Instagram has seemingly taken a page from its competitors. For example, the back-and-forth photo-sending tool is reminiscent of Snapchat, although they don’t disappear. And the ability to send photos privately mimics Twitter’s new tool that lets people share tweets through Direct Messages, making it easier for people to talk privately.

It’s also the latest in major changes on Instagram. Over the past two months, it added landscape photos to be uploaded, a useful Explore tool and opening up its advertising platform so it’s affordable for brands big and small to advertise to the app’s 300 million monthly users.

Images via Instagram.