Instagram may be well on its way to spinning off one of the biggest parts of its app into a standalone app of its own. Today, the Facebook-owned company confirmed it is testing Direct, "a camera-first app that connects seamlessly back to Instagram," in six countries — Turkey, Italy, Israel, Portugal, Chile, and Uruguay.
The Direct app brings direct messaging onto its own platform, separating your personal messages with friends from the messages you choose to share with larger groups of people in Stories and on your feed. In a statement, Instagram explained the intent behind the test: "We want Instagram to be a place for all of your moments, and private sharing with close friends is a big part of that. To make it easier and more fun for people to connect in this way, we are beginning to test Direct."
If this separation of close friends from the wider public audience sounds familiar, that's because Snapchat is in the process of rolling out something similar with the updated version of its app. However, instead of splitting off into two apps, like Instagram is trying out, Snapchat designated one section of its existing app for personal communications and another for brands, publishers, and verified public figures. It's also somewhat similar to Facebook's separation of Messenger from the standalone Facebook app.
Snapchat's change-up was spurred by slowing user growth, but 2017 has been a big year for Instagram. In April, the company announced its number of monthly active users had grown to a massive 700 million people, doubling its growth in just two years. Both Stories and Direct, two features of the app that launched after the app's original feed, are a big part of this rise. Since Instagram launched direct messaging in 2013 (denoted by paper plane-like arrow in the upper righthand corner), it has grown to 375 million monthly users. Instagram has continued adding useful new features to Direct, from disappearing photos and videos to split-screen images replies.
According to The Verge, users can swipe to the right in Direct to open Instagram, making the transition from one app to another easy. Screenshots of Direct provided by Instagram tout ways to "shoot and share fun messages faster" and "exclusive face filters, Boomerang, and Instagram creative tools." Luckily, any friends users have on Instagram are automatically added to Direct.
It's important to remember that Direct is still just a test. However, given the amount of work that's already gone into developing the messaging app, it seems unlikely that Instagram would scrap the idea entirely. Come 2018, there could be an entirely new app to learn your way around.