Facebook’s plan to unify its messaging apps is beginning to take shape. The company will begin incorporating more of Messenger’s features into Instagram’s in-app chat, including the ability to send messages across the two apps. Facebook began testing the features earlier this summer, but now says it intends to bring it to everyone who uses Instagram Messenger in the next few months.
With the change, Instagram users will be prompted to update in order to get “a new way to message on Instagram.” If they do, they’ll be able to reach Facebook users who don’t have Instagram accounts from the Instagram app. Likewise, Messenger users will be able chat with friends who only use Instagram.
During a briefing with reporters, Facebook representatives repeatedly emphasized that the update is not merging your Facebook and Instagram account, or combining your inboxes. If you use both apps, you’ll still be able to send and receive messages separately. Facebook is also allowing you to control whether or not you want non-Instagram users to be able to message you on Instagram and whether non-Facebook users can chat with you on Messenger.
Loredena Crisan, VP of Product Design for Messenger compared the change to making Facebook’s messaging more like email. “Just like today you could talk to a Gmail account if you have a Yahoo account, these accounts will be able to talk to each other through the shared protocol that is Messenger,” Crisan said.
The change also comes with some other upgrades to Instagram’s in-app messaging, which has long lagged behind Messenger. Instagram users will be able to forward messages, add reactions or set chats to automatically disappear with a new ”vanish mode.” The update will also improve Instagram’s tools for reporting harassment and other rule-breaking behavior as Messenger has more sophisticated reporting tools.
Still, the change could be controversial. Unlike Facebook, which requires people to use their real names, Instagram has no such policy. And some may not necessarily want their real identity to be linked to their Instagram account.
Crisan said that Facebook took this into account when creating the feature, and that “we do not want to even risk leaking the identities across the across the apps,” which is why the social network is allowing users to disable cross-app messaging if they choose.
At the same time, Facebook has previously admitted to linking users’ accounts across its apps — even if they had never chosen to do so — so the concern isn’t totally unwarranted.
The good news is that all of this is still optional — at least for now. Though Facebook is making the feature available to Instagram and Messenger users, it’s not forcing them to switch over to the “new experience.”