I found myself excited about a product launch this week, admittedly the first in some time. But it wasn’t something that would fundamentally change the world. Honestly, there was nothing special about what it does — it’s just another social media app. That’s right: I became worked up about an application called Threads that would mimic exactly what you get from Twitter, Bluesky, Mastodon, T2 and other similar offerings.
Incumbent platform players like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Reddit have mostly stayed in their own lane for at least the past decade. Though part of social media, these firms have focused their time on different areas or mediums. However, recent events have forced a paradigm change, one in which Twitter is facing competitors from apps founded by former employees and now even its biggest rival: Meta.
Why would Mark Zuckerberg and his team invest resources into a microblogging app when functionality already exists on Facebook? And why would it be a part of Instagram instead of the Blue app? These were some of the questions I pondered when word first spread about Threads’ launch.
And they’re legitimate concerns because, after all, Meta has a mixed track record when it comes to launching new apps like Instagram Lite, its Snapchat-rival Slingshot, the video-sharing app Riff, TikTok clone Lasso, and Pinterest clone Hobbi — all of which have met an early demise.
Even so, though Threads is barely a day old, the app has a welcoming experience — though it’s too early to tell when trolls will arrive — and gives off vibes suggesting this is the Twitter replacement we’ve been looking for.
Threads Hands-On: Something’s Different
Users and brands have abandoned Twitter ever since Elon Musk bought the company in a $44 billion deal. The platform’s APIs are more expensive to license, protections against the vulnerable have been erased, hate speech allowed, and more. To some, the answer has been to launch decentralized versions of Twitter.
Mastodon has been one of the leaders in this space, drawing in millions of new users in the months following Musk’s acquisition. There’s also T2, founded by ex-Twitter employees; Bluesky, which is backed by Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey; Spill, Post, CounterSocial and others.
It’s not like Twitter hasn’t seen competition before. Remember Plurk, Pownce and Jaiku in the early 2000s? But Twitter survived thanks to its market share and network effects. But now it faces a juggernaut of a competitor in Meta and when you stack them up against each other, the latter has a bigger audience it can weaponize. Twitter is in for its biggest fight…as long as Meta doesn’t step on its own feet to grow Threads.
What does Threads have?
- Create a fast onboarding process — likely thanks to the Instagram infrastructure it’s piggybacking off of
- Post, reply, repost/quote posts, and search for users
- Automatically display preview cards for URLs
- Import your bio and photos from Instagram into Threads to create uniformity, if you want
- Automatically follow people on Threads that you’re following on Instagram
- Photo support of up to 10 images displayed in carousel format
- Five minute-long videos
- Ability to post long “threads” of up to 500 characters
- If you’re verified on Instagram, that carries over to Threads
- Dark mode
What does Threads not have?
- A desktop or native browser interface that’s useable — visiting your profile on threads.net will only provide a read-only view
- A scalable search feature — you can only query users, but not topics or keywords (hashtags are also unusable)
- No chronological feed — you’ll likely see random people you don’t follow, though Instagram chief Adam Mosseri says a “following” feed is coming
- No developer API
- No support for editing posted Threads or pinning
- No native GIF support — you have to manually upload them into your post
- You cannot send direct messages
- Lack of multiple profile link support
- Thread posts cannot be embedded onto third-party sites
- Easily display the number of accounts you follow, though it can be found through some digging
- No additional features besides text-based chatting so forget about audio features, photo filters, livestreaming, etc for now
Instagram’s Threads app reminds me of the dawn of social media, a time when people were friendly and had cordial conversations or tossed around memes and GIFs. In the limited time I’ve had with it, Threads has become a go-to service, but not without some serious reservations such as the lack of a non-mobile interface.
Though I still have a Twitter account, I also have a presence on Bluesky, T2 and Mastodon. However, ramping up connections and an audience requires much more effort, especially from scratch and you don’t know which of your connections has migrated over. This is less of an issue with Threads, as it pipes over your Instagram network and Meta has proven experience in aiding with discovery.
There’s some familiarity in using Threads, largely because it carries over design aesthetics from Instagram. The icons, font text and overall experience are sharp and clean, though the font size might lend itself to some criticism by accessibility experts. But why was Threads under the umbrella of Instagram and not Facebook? And did we really need a Twitter competitor? After all, can’t I post the same type of drivel as I do on Twitter to my Facebook page?
Targeting the Public Square
In an interview with The Verge, Mosseri said the standalone app is designed for “public conversations” and I’d wager that while Facebook and Threads overlap in features, the former isn’t really a public forum. Many users likely prefer to share their posts, videos and photos only with friends or select audiences. On the other hand, Instagram is largely public — the app doesn’t provide much audience customization besides public and private, though you can share Instagram Stories with “close friends.”
The nature of Instagram being public is what led Threads to be incubated under the team. However, besides the design characteristics, what else will Threads inhabit from its parent? Another concern is why the company opted to pursue a standalone app like all the aforementioned shuttered programs versus making it a part of Instagram. To that, Mosseri replied:
With a new app comes the opportunity to have people think about what they can do in that space much more differently than trying to climb from under the shadow of what the app has been for before. Most people still think of Instagram as primarily a photo sharing, feed app, and all the growth and sharing on Instagram for half a decade has been in stories and in messaging. But we still have that identity because that’s our heritage. And so a new app allows you to shape that in a way, too.Instagram head Adam Mosseri on why the company opted to create a separate app for Threads
The flurry of activity within the past 24 hours seems to suggest that Threads was not overhyped. In fact, the app probably received the highest form of validation when its main rival Twitter threatened its parent Meta with a lawsuit. The impact of network effects is real — just look at these highlights:
- More than 30 million signups in under 24 hours
- App becomes the most rapidly downloaded app ever, trumping the five day mark set by ChatGPT
It’s probably not hard to imagine the Threads team and possibly even everyone at Meta feeling pretty good about themselves, patting themselves on the back, and taking a short victory lap…for now.
The Road Ahead for Threads
Although it feels like a soft launch for Threads — meaning not all the polish and shine has been applied — this app appears well constructed. The minimal viable product is enough to keep users entertained and on the site for quite some time, though there are many features left on the product checklist to cross off. But though the team has momentum, it mustn’t fall victim to unnecessary scope creep that’ll inadvertently doom Threads.
That being said, one of the big items Mosseri says is coming is support for the ActivityPub Protocol, which is embraced by Mastodon, Automattic and Flipboard. And even though they’re technically competitors, Threads’ pending integration of the protocol is something Mastodon CEO Eugen Rochko calls a “clear victory” for the organization’s cause.
If properly implemented, users should be able to transfer their Threads data away from Meta properties and import them into other protocol-supported apps like Mastodon. On one hand, it’s important to see the forest through the trees (proverbially speaking), but we must realize that Threads could be in a unique position, being the only Meta app to embrace decentralization.
How Will Brands Evaluate This New App?
Another advantage for Meta is Threads can easily be embraced by small and large businesses. The company has a reputation for brand safety and usage of customer support/service/care.
Don’t worry about your Threads feed being flooded by ads. According to Axios’ Sara Fischer, Meta seems to be holding off on introducing marketing tools for brands until the app hits a certain number of users. But it’s likely brand advertising will be done in a similar manner as the other Meta properties and this means more inventory and higher revenue numbers for the company when it announces fiscal earnings every quarter.
How Instagram manages to keep malicious and spammy bots at bay and to keep Threads a positive place will impact how brands factor the app into their digital communication strategy. But a big sell is again the network effects — their Threads account will have a good size following just like their Instagram account and provide an alternative form of communicating with fans and customers. This was probably why brands were reluctant to join Mastodon, Bluesky, and other decentralized accounts because they didn’t know who was there and those apps didn’t offer enough support businesses hoped for to set up shop there.
Threads also keeps more attention on Meta’s ecosystem of apps instead of diverting attention to competitors. Previously in a brand’s playbook, the marketing team used Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Snap, LinkedIn and a bevy of other apps to communicate with their customers. With Threads launching, brands can scratch Twitter off their list and have almost a de facto platform of truth, as it were, to do all their social media marketing. Think Salesforce but for external reach.
Don’t Forget the Creators
How will Threads influence the growing Creator Economy? Content creators may view this as a win: They can have a Facebook Page operate as their website, use WhatsApp for Business as a Patreon, upload viral videos and shorts on Instagram, and when they want to have spontaneous short-form real-time conversations, they turn to Threads where it’s with their adoring public.
I don’t think Meta should launch a fund or program targeting creators to motivate them to use Threads, however. Instead, the company should focus resources more on how creators see its entire ecosystem instead of trying to force people to use their latest tools. Fortunately, in this generation of the Creator Economy, Threads probably has a low learning curve because Twitter has been around for decades.
Potential Red Flags for Threads
- Meta’s reputation could be a turn-off for people using Threads. Some have sworn off giving Zuckerberg any more info or data about them following multiple scandals, although they delete their Facebook account but keep using Instagram.
- Speaking of privacy concerns, the information Threads needs could be a deterrent. Instagram says among the many data points it needs from users include their health and fitness, finance, contact, purchase, and location information.
- Can Instagram handle the content moderation that comes with a service like Twitter? It’s likely similar issues that Meta faces on a daily basis but it seems content will churn out at a much faster pace than crafting a Facebook post, doing an Instagram post or story or Reel.
- How will Meta respond to the European Union to ensure users in the region are able to take advantage of Threads?
- Could Threads’ success lead to more potential antitrust woes for Meta, especially if it dominates in two major aspects of social media?
Which App Will Succeed Twitter?
Don’t count Twitter out of the game because, under new CEO Linda Yaccarino, the company could make a startling change and recover. Historically, however, Twitter has been self-sabotaging itself and losing users.
But the chessboard has yet to be set. There are many players still in the space, each making a viable shot at becoming the market leader. The problem is that none of these apps have educated users enough about the use case in order to create scalable adoption.
Touting decentralization here and there is good but it hasn’t reached the point where everyone understands the benefits. There are many people who would still use incumbents like Twitter because of convenience and precedent versus jumping wholeheartedly to Bluesky.
Even so, there are signs suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach to all demographics and communities might not work anymore. Spill, for example, caters to Black and LGBTQ users.
Why I’m currently bullish on Threads is because of its good execution, use of knowledge transfer in possibly tackling issues that previously haunted Twitter, and developing an app with enough of a differentiator that it stands out from other Meta properties. In a time where people and brands are tired of the insanity on Twitter, they may flock to the devil that they know to find sanctuary…and Meta will embrace them.
What do you think about Threads? Let me know and follow me on the app: @thekenyeung