Facebook has taken the next big step in its messaging integration plan by announcing new cross-messaging functionality that will link Messenger and Instagram Direct, in various ways.
As explained by Facebook:
"We’re connecting the Messenger and Instagram experience to bring some of the best Messenger features to Instagram – so you have access to the best messaging experience, no matter which app you use."
According to Facebook, having so many messaging options available can be confusing, with one in three people saying that they often find it difficult to remember where to find a certain conversation thread. Facebook wants to alleviate that confusion by bringing all of your messages into a single, unified platform - though it's not quite at full capacity just yet.
As noted, Facebook's overarching goal is to have all of its messaging platforms - Messenger, Instagram Direct and WhatsApp - all connected, so that users within each app can send direct messages to each other, without having to download each app. That would make Facebook the unquestionable leader in global messaging, while it would also open new opportunities for marketing, eCommerce and more, all within this massive cross-platform network.
But this new integration is just another step. At this stage, all of your Instagram messages will remain only available on Instagram.
"The main change is that people using the Messenger app can now reach you on Instagram without you needing to download a new app, and vice versa. You can also control where you receive messages and calls, such as in your chats, in your message requests or not at all."
So, you can cross message from Messenger and Instagram, and you'll be able to see your Messenger threads in Instagram Direct. But your existing Instagram messages and call details will only be available in Instagram, at least at this point.
The new announcement also doesn't include WhatsApp as yet, with Facebook's Alexandru Voica explaining that:
"Right now, we are focused on cross-app communications Messenger and Instagram. We are still determining how cross-app communications will work with WhatsApp. WhatsApp will continue to remain a separate, end-to-end encrypted app at this time."
So while, again, this is a major step, Facebook still has a way to go in its full integration plan.
But still, the new integration will enable some interesting new functions, and Facebook's also rolling out some new features to celebrate this next stage in the process.
The new elements available within Messenger/Instagram are:
Selfie Stickers - Facebook says that these animated stickers are "a unique hybrid of Boomerang, emojis, and selfies", and provide a new way to react to conversations.
The option was first spotted in testing back in March.
Instagram is testing a fancy NEW 'Selfie' sticker feature for Stories!— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) March 27, 2020
h/t @blahout | https://t.co/7m2L0Qt2MW pic.twitter.com/G0AT7q7FhB
Watch Together - Instagram users will also now be able to join Watch Together video co-watching parties via Messenger, which Facebook just announced a new range of video partnerships for this week.
Facebook also notes that the new integration will also enable Watch Together parties focused on IGTV and Reels content, which could provide another way to experience both with friends.
Vanish Mode - Facebook's also adding a new vanish mode to its messaging tools, which will enable users to send messages that automatically disappear after they’re seen.
Facebook has been experimenting with disappearing messages ever since Snapchat first introduced the concept back in 2012, while users already have the option to conduct Secret chats in Messenger, which is essentially the same thing. Vanish Mode is another iteration of the same concept.
Chat Colors - Facebook's also adding new color gradients for your chats in Messenger/Instagram.
Custom Emoji Reactions - You'll now also be able to respond to messages in both apps with quick reaction emojis, while Facebook's also giving users the option to customize their Reaction emoji set.
Message Controls - Users will also be able to decide who can message them directly across each app, and where their message requests are stored.
This is part of the additional reporting and blocking capacity that's being made available as part of the integration - now, users will also be able to report full conversations, in addition to single messages on Instagram. Users will also get proactive blocking suggestions across Instagram and Messenger when they add their accounts.
So, a heap of interesting new features, and reasons to celebrate Facebook's next stage in its messaging integration, which will make it easier for users to stay connected, and as noted, will eventually make Facebook's messaging back-end the largest interconnected messaging network, by far, in the world.
Which is also a concern, because while Facebook wants to paint this as a great new integration for users, the interconnection of its back-end systems will also make Facebook Family of Apps harder to break-up, if regulators were to eventually find that the company has too much market power in its current form.
Facebook is still the subject of an ongoing antitrust investigation, within which it is indeed being argued that Facebook should be broken up into its separate elements in order to maintain industry competition. The integration of its messaging tools is seen by many as a safety net measure to avoid such, which is also, seemingly, why Facebook added Facebook branding to all of its apps last year, bringing them all under a single, unified banner.
If Facebook can argue that it's all, essentially, one single platform, then it can't be broken up, or at least not as easily. So while the consumer-facing pitch is that this is a much better, much more fun, more integrated process to solve the problem of losing track of your chat threads, the real motivation may well lie in solidifying Facebook's business dominance.
That does make sense, and it's not a criticism as such, but it is worth noting that there's another side to the bright colors being presented, which relates to data collection, empire-building and reinforcing the dominance of The Social Network.
Of course, general users won't care, and the new features will add a range of options to consider, both for regular users and businesses alike.
Facebook says that it's rolling out these new features across Instagram and Messenger "in a few countries around the world" initially, with a global rollout coming soon.