Instagram test could ditch private messages, launch Messenger-like Direct app

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Instagram’s private messaging could soon be getting new features — but that’s only if the platform’s split turning Direct messages into a separate app makes it through testing. Instagram recently began testing a separate split app for Direct, similar to how Facebook messages split into Messenger in 2014. Instagram vice president of product Kevin Weil announced the test via Tweet on Thursday, December 7.

The stand-alone Instagram Direct app is currently being tested in Chile, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Turkey, and Uruguay — and if users in those areas choose to install the separate messaging app, the regular Instagram app loses the ability to send private messages. Instagram’s motivations behind the split are similar to parent company Facebook’s decision to create Messenger — as a separate app, the messaging platform can integrate more features than what was possible while co-existing inside the same framework with the rest of the social network.

Direct keeps Instagram’s messaging features intact while adding a handful of features, including a few exclusive features that aren’t currently available in Instagram. The user interface opens straight to the camera and relies on directional swipes to access messages and account settings — not too much unlike Snapchat’s camera prominence and swipe navigation. Heading back to the Instagram app is also built in by taking another swipe to the right rather than back to the camera from the inbox section of the app, while Instagram is also building in a swiping action to switch into the Direct app for the test.

While the Direct app includes similar features compares to sending a message within Instagram, the stand-alone messaging app also integrates four new filters, according to the Verge, including a video filter that randomly sensors your speech and two others that put multiple images of you inside the same photo or video.

Facebook’s move to separate Messenger wasn’t exactly well received when users were forced to download a second app and switch between the two to navigate between public posts and private messages. The change had the same motivations as Instagram’s, aiming to bring more features into the app — and now Messenger users have access to augmented reality camera effects, bots, and a number of social games that don’t require separate app downloads. Since requiring mobile users to download the app for private messages, Messenger’s user count more than doubled from the original 500 million users, now sitting somewhere around 1.3 billion using the messaging app at least monthly.

Instagram Direct — as built into the existing Instagram app — was simplified this year with a redesign that made messages easier to find. The latest globally available update invites users to remix their friends’ photos and send them back.

For now, Direct is only a test — Instagram doesn’t yet know if or when the split app will roll out globally. If a global launch happens, the Direct app also could see several changes first based on feedback from users participating in the testing.

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