Meta’s copy/paste version of Twitter launched yesterday—and was immediately a roaring success. But is it any good—and will it topple Twitter?
Ok tell me about Threads…
“There was an opportunity or demand for more people to play in the public space,” he said, referring to the changes around Twitter under Mr. Musk. [Instagram CEO Adam] Mosseri added that the chance to challenge Twitter came about “not just because of the ownership, but because of product changes and decisions” that Mr. Musk and others made to how the social platform works.
Code-named “Project 92,” it was kept secret even within the company. The team was small—and other employees did not have access to initial versions of the app.
The launch: Threads rolled out in 100 countries yesterday. Due to Meta’s anti-monopoly issues in Europe, it is not available in the EU for now. Threads is available in India—but you will need an Insta account to get started. And it is app-only for now.
How it works: Yes, it shamelessly rips off Twitter:
- Tweets are called ‘threads’—and RTs are ‘reposts’.
- But you get to say a bit more. The word limit is 500 characters—higher than Twitter’s 280.
- And you can share up to 10 images per post—unlike Twitter’s limit of four.
- You can share vids that are up to five minutes long.
- And you can unfollow, block or report other users.
- You can set your account to private or public—much like Insta.
- As of now, you cannot send a direct message, search for content or use hashtags.
The biggest plus: All your Instagram followers can be ported into Threads. What that means: “Making an account gives you the option to follow your existing circle from Instagram. Your followers will likely receive a notification that you’ve made an account and posted, encouraging them to do the same.” So you don’t have to start from scratch. Also: if you have a fancy blue tick on Insta, you will get one on Threads, as well.
The biggest minus: The Threads timeline—which bizarrely shows you whatever its algorithm decides. There is no way for you to limit your feed to people you follow—which is what makes Twitter valuable:
The actual feed is a garbage hose. Threads lacks the feature that became the foundation of Twitter’s rise: a simple feed, full of posts by people the user follows, appearing in the order they were posted… Threads has neither a chronological feed feature nor a feed of only followed users. Instead, it shows you content from across the entire platform. This algorithmic “you’ll eat what’s on your plate and like it” feed is the only one Threads has, and that is even more of a bummer because the algorithm is not good yet.
The big red flag: You cannot delete your Threads account without deleting your Insta handle. Meta says it is working on a fix but helping your users easily leave is never on top of any company’s must-do list. Of course, there is the downside of being the person who uses WhatsApp, Instagram and now Threads—that’s a lot of private information to turn over to a single company.
But it’s been a huge success?
Well, no one copy/pastes as successfully as the Zuck (See: reels from TikTok, stories from Snapchat). The app acquired 30 million users in the first 24 hours. More importantly, it instantly attracted celebrities like Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. Brands like Airbnb, Netflix, Marvel Studios and Spotify flooded in—as did news outlets like CBS, Vox and Vogue. Even US politicians jumped on the bandwagon—but not the White House or President Biden, as yet. All of which led Zuckerberg to declare: “Feels like the beginning of something special.”
Another Meta cash cow? Brands were given a sneak preview of the app—and have been early adopters. They also represent the biggest opportunity for Meta. Companies have been extremely unhappy with Twitter’s erratic content moderation policy—which is why the platform’s ad revenues have plummeted this year.
There are no ads on Threads as yet with Meta virtuously claiming: “Our priority is to build consumer value first and foremost, which allows us to explore how to build business value in a way that doesn’t compromise the consumer experience” But it’s only a matter of time until Meta exploits Threads’ one unparalleled advantage over its rivals:
The superpower that Threads has that Twitter doesn’t is that it doesn’t need to learn about the 30 million users who subscribed to the platform overnight. Chances are that from their Instagram, Facebook, and even WhatsApp activity, Threads already knows quite a bit about you.
And how has Twitter reacted—especially Musk?
Zuckerberg has been gleefully trolling Twitter owner Elon Musk, saying: “It’ll take some time, but I think there should be a public conversations app with 1 billion+ people on it. Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it. Hopefully we will.” For his part, Musk pointed out that he cancelled his Instagram account way back in 2018: “It is infinitely preferable to be attacked by strangers on Twitter, than indulge in the false happiness of hide-the-pain Instagram.”
An angry letter: Twitter lawyers have sent a letter to Zuckerberg accusing Meta of engaging in “systematic, willful, and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property.” Musk also tweeted: "Competition is fine, cheating is not," Twitter claims Meta hired dozens of its employees and told them to use confidential information to create a copycat.
Meta says no one working on Threads is a former Twitter employee. And experts say Twitter has not offered any hard evidence of theft: "The mere hiring of former Twitter employees (who Twitter itself laid off or drove away) and the fact that Facebook created a somewhat similar site is unlikely to support a trade secrets claim.”
Paging Mr Dorsey: Twitter founder Jack Dorsey—who has set up his own Twitter rival called OpenSky—also threw shade at the Zuck: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 7 Twitter clones.”
Point to remember: Zuckerberg tried to buy Twitter back in 2008—and was rebuffed.
Is everyone going to move to Threads now?
It’s too early to tell. While Threads is very much a copycat Twitter, it is different from the original in key ways.
Not for news junkies: This is not the place to get breaking news—again, because your feed is determined by the Threads algorithm. And there is no way to re-order your feed so you see the latest posts first. Twitter remains the first port of call when something big happens:
Instead, Threads is more like a cross between Twitter and Instagram, with a TikTok-style focus on juicing engagement from posts. You are more likely to see a funny post from the Archbishop of Banterbury meme account than an earnest discussion about a political intervention by his Church of England equivalent.
Not for sports fans: This also makes Threads not-so-ideal for any experience that relies on real-time updates—like a cricket match or football game:
Twitter remains the internet’s indispensable place to gather and talk about society’s last dominant form of live entertainment—sports games—with like-minded people. Sports were essential to Twitter establishing itself as a dominant platform for short-form text, and they would be essential to Threads, too. But for now the app is useless for that purpose, as well as for reliable real-time updates in general.
Too much moderation? If Musk is under fire for not moderating content, Zuckerberg has leaned to the other extreme. Instagram is notorious for taking down handles and posts for the smallest violations. And there are early indications that Threads will be averse to any kind of heated debate—or provocative posts.
Threads is being promoted as “a positive space where users can ‘tune out’ the noise.” According to Zuckerberg: “We are definitely focusing on kindness and making this a friendly place.” Content moderation on Threads is heavy-handed:
Across the app, Threads obscured some posts behind a warning box indicating that the content was “reviewed by independent fact checkers” and ruled misleading. Users could click a button on the warning box to reveal the content. An additional pop-up box included a brief explanation about why the content was hidden and a link to a post by the fact checkers who made the ruling. Threads also appeared to hide some comments entirely.
In fact, Threads even warns you against following someone who has been previously flagged for publishing false or misleading content. It ominously asks: “Are you sure you want to follow?”
The biggest complaint: about Threads is that it feels bland and boring. The freewheeling culture of Twitter has been replaced with a sanitised, brand-friendly environment—much like Insta:
Threads is setting itself up to be a sanitised version of Twitter that employs the most mundane features of the platform while stifling the posting culture that made Twitter so unique. The users who make Twitter fun, and build the sense of community that defined the platform at its peak, will likely be flagged for violating one of Instagram’s archaic community guidelines if they bring the same energy to Threads.
A key point to note: Porting your Insta community into your Threads universe may sound super-convenient. But it ignores the fact that people use different platforms for different reasons:
Most people, including myself, compartmentalise their online presence. Instagram, with its curated, polished veneer, is for keeping up with people I know in real life. TikTok is for content about my extremely niche hobbies. Reddit is for diving into reviews of every product I’ve ever thought about buying. Twitter (and all of the clones attempting to rise from its ashes) is for sharing every asinine thought I’ve ever had.
It will be difficult to say anything on Threads that you may not want to share with your IRL friends on Instagram.
The bottomline: The greatest danger is that Threads will turn out to be a text-heavy version of Insta. No one needs that.
The Guardian has a useful review from its tech columnist. This New York Times report is the most comprehensive—with more on the moderation policy. Washington Post reports on Threads’ early success—and what it will take to maintain it. The best critiques of Threads are in TechCrunch and Slate. Reuters has more on the letter Twitter lawyers sent to Zuckerberg. This Atlantic essay expresses the existential angst of millennials—nostalgic for the heydays of social media.