With a promise of user-friendliness, the emergence of Mark Zuckerberg’s Threads is causing a buzz in the world of social media, potentially shaking up the competition with Twitter and other similar platforms. Threads garnered a remarkable 100 million sign-ups within five days of its launch, surpassing bookmakers’ predictions. This rapid growth rivals that of ChatGPT, which took two months to reach the same milestone.
Threads seem to be capitalising on the limitations imposed by Elon Musk’s Twitter, where users are restricted in the number of tweets they can read or post daily. Furthermore, Twitter’s recent subscription-based business models didn’t resonate well with users, leading to bottlenecks and discontent.
Threads walks on familiar territory created by Facebook and Instagram, both of which already boast formidable member bases. The idea of interoperability adds to the allure of Threads as Facebookers and Instagrammers can seamlessly switch between platforms. While Twitter remains a one-way traffic platform, Threads opens up multiple roads for users to explore.
Despite Threads’ appearance of flexibility, it remains unclear how far Zuckerberg will take it. Threads arrives at a particularly weak moment for Twitter, with Musk’s recent announcement of limiting free Twitter accounts to viewing only 600 tweets per day met with derision. Such moves are likely to further hurt advertising on the platform, exacerbating a crisis that has been ongoing throughout Musk’s tenure.
Technical troubles at Twitter coinciding with a slow news week have set the stage for Threads. “Suddenly, you have something that’s improbable: Meta has gotten into microblogging, and people are actually digging it,” according to John Wihbey, a professor in the School of Journalism and Media Innovation at Northeastern University, who has worked as a contracted consultant for Twitter.
Threads, the latest of Meta’s copycat innovations, faces a challenging journey in its bid to topple Twitter as the microblogging platform of choice. It has entered into a feeding frenzy for users, as tensions have grown increasingly heated since Musk acquired the platform last year. However, Threads comes with significant potential, thanks to its polished technology, built-in user base and reputation for better moderation that’s likely to attract big-money advertisers.
One major advantage Threads holds over other Twitter copycats is its close association with Instagram. While Threads is a separate app, it already has a vast potential pool of users on Instagram. These users can choose to follow the same accounts they already follow on Instagram when they join Threads.
After months of turmoil at Twitter, many users are seeking an alternative, but most have yet to commit to a single platform. This bodes well for Threads, which has a fighting chance if it can firmly establish protections for communities and individuals. If Threads can displace Twitter’s current toxicity, it may well steal Musk’s crown, according to Tama Leaver, a professor of internet studies at Curtin University in Australia.
Twitter and Instagram cater to different needs, with Twitter allowing some nudity while Instagram has banned it. Instagram focuses on aesthetics, positivity, and personal updates, but it’s notorious for veering into toxic positivity and presenting overly edited and carefully selected images. On the other hand, Twitter’s brand lies in snark, memes, and breaking news. Merging these two energies seamlessly is doubtful. Adam Mosseri wrote in a thread about the platform’s purpose, “My take is it’s less about text versus photos and videos and more about what public conversations you want to have”.
Backed by Meta, Threads benefits from having a team of engineers that volunteer-run networks like Mastodon can’t rival. Users can post Threads directly to their Instagram stories. According to a recent post from Instagram head Mosseri, Threads will eventually support ActivityPub, the protocol behind Mastodon. This feature would enable people to take their followers to another service if they leave Threads or if the app shuts down.
However, Threads can’t yet match all of Twitter’s capabilities. Users need an Instagram account to sign up, and the app is not available in the European Union due to strict privacy standards. The feed defaults to a mix of accounts people follow and algorithm-selected posts. There’s no direct messaging feature, and the feed’s order is algorithmic, not chronological. Threads lacks a trending topics section, and the search feature only brings up accounts, not specific topics or posts, making it less appealing to anyone following big news events. Currently, there are no ads on Threads.
Despite these challenges, Threads had a mostly smooth launch and received a largely positive reception, with a slight hiccup when Zuckerberg’s own Threads failed to load at some point.
Microblogging remains a risky bet, as social platforms focusing on it haven’t been consistently profitable. Nevertheless, Threads may enhance Meta’s brand as Twitter’s reputation falters and offers an opportunity to capitalise on advertisers who have abandoned Twitter.
Threads may never fully replace Twitter, but it could be a friendlier place for conversations. At the moment, most of the posts on Threads are about the platform itself, but it will need to sustain user attention beyond its initial launch to avoid joining the graveyard of Meta’s failed imitators.
Meta has had a mixed history when it comes to cannibalising its competitors. While ‘Instagram Reels’ leveraged some of TikTok’s popularity and ‘Instagram Stories’ emulated Snapchat, neither platform succeeded in completely replacing their rivals. TikTok and Snapchat remain two of Meta’s top competitors for attention among younger generations.
Threads may appear to be the shiny Twitter rival of the day, but Meta has an unsavoury track record with projects outside its core apps. Despite its ambitious all-in bet on the metaverse, the immersive world envisioned by Zuckerberg has yet to materialize, even with additional features.
Over the past year, Meta has abandoned other offshoots, including Super (a Cameo copy), Facebook live shopping and Neighborhoods (a Nextdoor clone). A podcast push also came to an end earlier in 2022. Meta followed Twitter’s lead in announcing a paid subscription tier with verification and improved features earlier this year.
The fastest way to grow a new social network, it seems, is to convert your existing 1 billion+ users over to the new platform. Threads’ unprecedented 100 million users in less than a week took the industry by surprise. It set a new record for the fastest-growing consumer application, surpassing even Instagram’s achievement a decade ago.
The landscape of the internet has changed drastically in this decade, with platforms like TikTok achieving 100 million users in just nine months. The appetite for a more mainstream alternative to Twitter is particularly strong right now.
Despite initial skepticism about Threads, it has proven to be more than just an app for the comments section of Instagram. Its integration with the ActivityPub/Fediverse movement has bolstered its prospects. Apple’s entry into Threads indicates that it might be more than a small, tight-knit community.
Threads is available everywhere via the App Store, except in the European Union due to privacy standards. While Threads has made an impressive start, its ability to sustain growth and compete with established platforms like Twitter will determine its long-term success. The battle for social media supremacy continues and Threads has emerged as a formidable contender.