To be fair, this could end up being a big deal for Instagram. At minimum, it's a much needed feature if it's to compete with services like SnapChat and WhatsApp, though rather than blaze a trail into new territory, Instagram is just now catching up to these alternative services with this function.
In any event, Instagram Direct allows users to snap a photo -- either an external shot (or video) or the ever-popular selfie -- and then send it off to a single person or a group of close friends along with a message attached. Once you've sent it off, you'll be able to find out who's seen your photo or video, see which recipients liked it, and watch them comment in real-time.
"There are, however, moments in our lives that we want to share, but that will be the most relevant only to a smaller group of people—an inside joke between friends captured on the go, a special family moment or even just one more photo of your new puppy. Instagram Direct helps you share these moments."