Instagram tests new messaging app

The new standalone messaging app follows a similar path to Facebook's "Messenger" service which forced users to switch to a different tool for private messaging.

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Instagram Direct
The new app "Direct" will force Instagram users to use it to continue private messaging with their contacts. Photo: StockSnap, Pixabay

Since the acquisition by Facebook in 2012, Instagram has gone through a variety of notable changes.  Similar to the way Facebook’s chat feature was changed into the Messenger app used today, Instagram is soon to have its own standalone private messaging tool.

The new Instagram messaging app, named “Direct” marks a potential first step in doing away with private messaging in the primary app. Direct will open up to a phone’s camera in a similar way to how Snapchat currently does.  The Direct app has been introduced for testing in 6 countries including Chile, Israel, Italy and Portugal.

For anyone who installs the new Direct app, the messaging feature from their core Instagram application will be unavailable. If these tests prove successful, Facebook will then operate its 3rd standalone messaging app.

Instagram has stated that the reasoning for creating Direct was its acknowledgement that the Instagram community is different from others. Noting that a messaging experience will never be ideal when piggybacking off a public broadcast app, Instagram wants to give its core community its own standalone messaging tool.

This rhetoric is similar to what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said about the introduction of Messenger for Facebook. He noted that on mobile platforms, each application can only “focus on doing one thing well” and that while installing a new app might be inconvenient for people at first it will enable far better interaction.

The development of the Direct app closely follows the rise of Instagram “stories” which prompted users to engage in a back and forth with their friends in a functionally similar way to Snapchat.

The numbers show that private messaging apps attract more frequent user interaction than regular social media broadcast channels. It is speculated that people are choosing to discuss growing cultural and political issues in private rather than invite open conversation on their news feeds.

The Direct app is currently a pretty barebones experience with only 3 screens that enable messaging, managing your account and navigating conversations. Facebook’s Messenger started off in a similarly simple way before more and more features were added.

This move by Facebook further develops Instagram into a Snapchat competitor and is another blow in the social media wars. Every feature that has made Snapchat stand out in the marketplace has been slowly taken and improved on Facebook’s network.

While not a ground-breaking development in the mobile app marketplace, Direct is likely to be successful in creating another window in which Facebook can display highly targeted advertisements to a habitually engaged audience.