SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook began allowing people to use the photo-sharing app Instagram and the messaging app Messenger to communicate with each other on Wednesday, as part of a planned integration of the social network’s major messaging applications.
With the changes, people who use Instagram can now send photo, video or text messages to those who use Facebook Messenger, and vice versa. The two apps had operated separately, with no direct communication between them. Facebook said it would also add roughly 10 features to Instagram that were previously exclusive to Messenger, such as group video watch sessions, an ephemeral messaging mode and “selfie stickers.”
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, announced last year that he planned to knit together the company’s three messaging apps, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, noting that more people were communicating privately online. That’s a marked difference from the early days of Facebook, when users publicly posted to their digital “walls.”
“We’re basically giving people the ability to do something they all want to do across apps,” said Stan Chudnovsky, vice president of Messenger at Facebook, in an interview.
More than 100 billion messages are sent across Facebook’s family of apps every day, Mr. Chudnovsky said. That far surpasses the roughly 24 billion SMS text messages exchanged daily on mobile carriers at their peak around 2015.
Lawmakers and regulators have expressed concerns that Mr. Zuckerberg’s integration plan is part of a strategy to keep authorities from breaking Facebook apart. The company is under intense antitrust scrutiny, especially over its acquisitions of smaller rivals over the years; its critics have argued that Facebook essentially neutralized competitive threats. Last month, Mr. Zuckerberg answered questions under oath as part of a Federal Trade Commission inquiry into whether Facebook had broken antitrust laws.
The opportunity in messaging is enormous. Much of the world has been carved out according to messaging platform, with regional players tending to dominate. Japan’s Line, for instance, is the most popular service in the country, while Tencent’s WeChat is pervasive in China.
But the United States has been an anomaly. Americans tend to have three or more messaging apps on their smartphones, Mr. Chudnovsky said, citing Facebook’s research. One in three U.S. users also loses track of conversation threads across the apps in use, he said.
Integrating Instagram, Messenger and eventually WhatsApp — which is more difficult because of how the encrypted service works, Mr. Chudnovsky said — will also help Facebook ward off its competitors. Apple is one of the largest communication enablers, with iMessage installed on every iPhone. Google is ramping up its efforts by supporting a broad-based messaging language designed to work across different mobile phones and cellular carriers. And Signal, the encrypted messaging app, has gained traction over the past few years.
As part of the integration, the 10 new features in Instagram — expanded colors and stickers for chat messages, animated message effects, and others — will be powered by Messenger’s infrastructure.
Facebook also plans to introduce Watch Together, which allows people to watch videos or movies inside Messenger while on a video call with friends or family. The product is similar to those from different media companies, including one introduced by Disney on Tuesday in its Disney+ streaming video app. Facebook has heavily promoted group video chats since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
For now, the integration of Instagram and Messenger will be slowly rolled out to people in a few countries; Facebook did not specify where. Users in those countries, a subset of the more than two billion people who use the apps, will then be able to decide whether or not they wish to opt into the newly integrated services.