Instagram doesn't have an ephemeral chat mode like competitor Snapchat, but new code hidden within the app reveals it's at least toying with the idea. The reverse engineering pro Jane Manchun Wong discovered the feature, which she describes as being "an early barebone version," and shared a demonstration on Twitter based on her understanding of the code. Instagram later confirmed the experimental feature in a tweet.
How it works — As you can see in the above GIF, launching the “🙊 mode,” as it's currently called, reveals a dark-themed chat window. Wong then sends a message and it shows as "seen" by the recipient. After Wong closes the thread and returns, the original message she sent has disappeared, meaning everyone in the conversation sees the message before it's wiped.
Instagram text chat already features an option to delete messages after you've sent them, but that requires you to do so manually and alerts all the recipients. This is much simpler and more immediate.
Instagram cloned Snapchat but did it well — It's frankly surprising that Instagram doesn't yet have this feature that has become commonplace in messaging apps, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that his company would be moving towards more ephemeral, encrypted messaging in 2020, so it wouldn't be a surprise if disappearing messages launches soon. And we already know that Zuckerberg himself would appreciate the feature that disappears ill-considered messages into the ether so they don't come back to haunt us later.
Instagram famously ripped Snapchat's Stories feature almost verbatim back in 2016, and some have argued that its growth plateaued as a consequence because Instagram was able to immediately push the feature to its global userbase while Snapchat was still in its infancy, and mostly just popular in the U.S.
Either way, Stories on Instagram is a genuinely good product now, whatever you think of Facebook's tactics. And Instagram has continued to iterate on it with useful new features like the "Close Friends" list that allows users to choose a specific group of friends with which to share the most risqué of their late-night Stories posts. In another recent leak, Manchun Wong found that Instagram is looking to expand upon this by allowing users to hide Story posts from individual users rather than needing to use the Close Friends list.