The most talked about app at the moment is Threads- Meta’s ‘Twitter Killer.”
The unveiling of Threads last week comes with the ever growing chaos at Twitter. Since Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter last year the platform seems to be tanking …
A Summary of The State of Twitter
A quick summary of what’s happening at Twitter as it’s important context for Threads release and fast initial growth:
- The purchase of Twitter by Musk was far from smooth sailing… He initially offered to purchase the app, then retracted the offer (realising that things were not perhaps as good as they seemed). He was sued by Twitter for trying to cancel the deal. Then eventually went through with the purchase in October 2022.
- Musk wanted Twitter to be the town square for discussion and thought it was vital as a space for free speech.
- Upon arrival Musk promptly fired half of the Twitter staff (now up to 80%) and set about making the company profitable (Twitter has only been profitable one year in its existence)
- This included the controversial decision to make people buy blue ticks — which Musk believed would be a good way to move Twitter away from its reliance on ad revenue. This was not well received…
- He also cracked down on a handful of accounts which it appeared he did not personally like — this made him seem tyrannical
- Part of Musk’s cuts were the content moderation team — combined with Musk’s call for freedom of speech Twitter has seen an increase in discriminatory and hostile tweets
- The content and vibe of the content of the platform has become notably savage, angry and chaotic. Many users have been unhappy with the changes made and feel as though the Twitter is evolving into a space they no longer really want to be a part of.
- Similarly advertisers have fled the platforming pulling spend. Twitter Blue does not seem to be making up for the decrease in advertiser spend…
Why Meta Could Succeed Where Others Have Failed.
Meta is not the first to try replicate Twitter’s success with a text based platform. Other platforms have tried — Bluesky, Truth and Mastodon — yet failed to make a real dent. The rise of these platforms suggests user’s want something new and different. However to get to critical scale is hard. Meta seems better poised for success compared to other due to three reasons:
- Ability to leverage their existing scale
- Proven track record to successfully copy others :D
As noted above, Twitter is in chaos. Ultimately both users and advertisers are ready for another text based platform.
When Meta unveiled plans to release Threads, Twitter has just made another controversial annoucement — limits to the number of Tweets users could view — further offsiding users (and hamstringing their marketing business). Meta’s timing was perfectly planned. Timing is an underestimated factor in business success.
Unlike other Twitter competitors Meta has the advantage of scale. They have over 3.5 billion monthly active users on their platform (which includes Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook). The initial fruits of this scale are VERY positive. Threads hit over 100 million sign ups in 5 days —setting a new record to hit 100 million users (beating ChatGPTs recent new record).
How did it get there so quick? Well, the fact it’s a Meta product is a large contributing factor (but not the only factor). Meta has had many flops… such as Home (reimagined home-screen for phones), Portal (video conferencing hardware), TBH (anonymous teen polling site), Campus (social media for uni students), Tuned (dating app). These failures are not things Meta should feel embarrased about — it shows they have been continuing to push the boundary and explore new things. Building tech products are hard — these failures at Meta just reinforce this truth. The point is just because Meta has scale it did not guarantee Threads’ success.
Meta has leveraged both their platform and timing very well for Threads’ launch. Specifically, the launch leveraged Instagram, Meta’s platform with the most social currency, extremely well.
Meta has developed a reputation for copying. They get a lot of hate for this — but from a business perspective it makes sense. Is it the best product innovation? No, but should they hamstring their business when an existential threat comes up? Also, no.
This sentiment was nicely summarised by IG’s VP of product, Kevin Weil, in a Tech Crunch article. He explains it’s silly to think — “‘Oh, see that good idea over there that’s actually fulfilling a need people have to share more moments of their life? Because one person did that we can’t even go near that idea.’”
Instagram successfully limited the rise of Snapchat by mimicing the stroies feature. Then when TikTok began skyrocketing Instagram was quick to introduce Reels, which again was quite successful. However, each replica by Meta has not been a huge success — there have been many failures — such as Bulletin a Substack replica. So again this alone does not mean Meta will succeed with Threads.
For Threads to succeed it will be a combination of the above factors plus a bit of luck. Ultimately it’s too early to tell if Threads will succeed — but Meta has started strong. However social is a long term game — the real test will be in 6 months and then beyond…
I will spend the remaining of this article detailing key product moves I believe Meta has executed well with Threads. I will then note some future iterations I would be interested to see in the product.
The most important part of Threads, which I believe is key for their growth is the sign up process. As noted, Threads leverages Instragram. To sign up to Threads you need to link your Instagram account. This process is very seemless and enables for the following:
- Low barrier to sign up for new users — let’s be honest it’s annoying to join a new platform and to grow a following. No one want to start from zero followers — especially those who have already worked hard to grow a following. Threads lets you plug into your existing Instagram network. When setting up your profile you can import your bio, profile pic & link from your IG with a single click. You can opt in to automatically follow all the people you already follow and visa versa. Without doing anything I have amassed over 80 followers — all of which are my IG followers who have joined Threads. This has helped Threads grow so fast.
- An aside the one thing I did not initially understand: Threads includes an explanation on what it is. However, the point on the fediverse I found a bit convoluted. I did not at the time know what Mastadon was — so the explanation went over my head. I suspect I was not the only one who saw this point. When I read it I just went okay, cool?? With a bit of further research I understand that this is going to be a point of differentiation for Threads which will enable easy sharing and integration with other platforms which uses ActivityPub. Threads is inherently decentralised and it will be a point requiring education for users.
- Lack of anonymity = kindness — the fact your Threads is linked to your IG- which, let’s be real is were people tend to project a very polished version of themselves — means it’s a bit harder to be a dick on Threads. This manifests into Threads (at least initially) being very friendly, fun and wholesome in content. I’ve seen some memes about this on Twitter — but Twitter initially was for the mundane and silly. This differs greatly to the current angry mob one can find on Twitter. Indeed this also does limit the type of content people will post on Threads— I’m intrigued to see how one’s Threads persona differs from one’s Instagram persona. Already there have been times I hesitated posting a thread thinking about what type of persona I am trying to establish.
- Displaying Threads’ UserID on your Instagram profile: If you have created a Threads account your UserID will appear on your Instagram profile (you can hide this if you like). This helps provide some hype around Threads and enables early adopters to flex their low UserID. By clicking on the UserID you are prompted to Threads.
- Sharing Threads: Sharing Threads to Instagram is a particularly nice experience. You can also share a Thread to TWITTER (so savage lol). However, Threads does not yet have a web version — limiting the utility of sharing to only those who have Threads. This is not necessarily bad as it could promote those who don’t have Threads to create an account to see shared content.
The home page is very simple and near identical to Twitter in vibe and feel. The feed itself has a mix of people you follow and don’t. Meta can leverage your Instagram behaviour to suggest content to you. I suspect this will eventually enable Threads to offer a far more curated feed than Twitter.
Key actions one can take are; like, comment, repost (which surely should be called Rethread?) and share. The order of actions is the same as IG (bar IG does not have repost and but does have save. This means Threads is very intuitive and familiar for IG users. The only number (I at least) can see is the number of replies — emphasising to users to directly engage with content and converse. Again a smart call as this encourages discourse which is vital for a text based platform. Threads is a platform for conversation. As Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, says “if you want to be engaging in public conversations Threads is going to be a fundamentally better place [relative to Instagram]. The post an comment model which is how Facebook works, it’s how Instagram works is great but is does not support public discourse as well as a Tweet and reply model. Elevating a reply to the same level as the initial post allows for much more robust, diverse discourse”
I saw a couple comments from Twitter users about the order of these actions — they are not the same as Twitter which does, comment, retweet, like, view and share. The thing is — Threads is an Instagram app — it makes far more sense to replicate Instagram’s actions and order as (assumption) most Threads users will be Instagram users first (not Twitter users). The omission of view count on Threads is interesting — for an app just launching it makes sense to not have it — perhaps Meta was unsure how many views threads would get? Instagram does not show this stat so perhaps Threads never will? It will be interesting to see how much Threads feels like a text based IG or outright replica of Twitter as the platform evolves.
You can see the accounts which have a little plus button on their profile pics I am not following. It’s easy to follow these accounts you don’t already with a single click.
At launch this is the most basic functionality — one can only search profiles. Obviously this will improve. Thinking about it, it’s the right call for launch for search to be profile focused only, as this helps people grow which then helps them stick to the platform. The accounts suggested to me are quite funny — lmaoo they always seem quite random. I am unsure how curated they are…
Writing a Thread (Threading?)
This is the central nav bar icon. It’s clear as a user this is the main action I should take. Nothing too interesting to note on this one besides the ability to determine who can reply to your thread. This does let users have more control over their content and who can converse with them.
- There are two tabs on my profile — threads and replies. It’s interesting both are included. Your threads and replies act as your Threads public digital footprint. These are the things I should care about as a user and think about when I am curating my persona.
- Followers number only displayed— I saw some hate for this one. However it then became obvious why Meta did this — in showing only the number of people you follow you don’t care about your follow to following ratio. This in turn encourages users to be generous with who they follow (I myself have) — this drives early follower growth which again makes it more enticing for early adopters to stay.
- It’s easy to share my profile, again promoting organic growth of Threads.
- Links to my Instagram easily — encouraging cross platform usage within the Meta universe.
The notifications section is nicely divided with easy tab division for navigation — which allows me to easily sift through the different types of notifications I have. Again the nav tabs indicate to me what I should care about.
What I think makes sense to add
There has been lots of chatter about how basic Threads is — this is intential as it’s the the MVP (minimal viable product). I suspect Meta wanted to get something out ASAP to capitalise on Twitter’s weak position. There are a bunch of obvious things to add (many of which Threads is already working on):
- Better search
- Hashtags for categorising content
- Pinning threads to your profile
- Web browser version of Threads
- DMs (Though I don’t think this is needed, you can DM on IG, WhatsApp, Messenger… perhaps what will be more useful is integration in Threads to make cross platform messaging within Meta’s ecosystem easy)
Most of these request from users and the general public are direct replicas of what’s available on Twitter. However for Threads to hold its own I believe it will need to differentiate from Twitter. This could be through its product offering directly or the content and moderation of it. After all, Threads is intended to be a ‘sanely run’ text based platform — contrasting the chaos at Twitter. We need to remember that Threads is an Instagram app — it needs to be curating to their Instagram community first and foremost to engage Instagram users.
Tabs on the feed
One thing I think would be interesting to add is tabs to the home page. Already user’s have requested a chronological feed which differentiates between following and suggested (something Twitter has). However, I think Threads can and should consider taking this a step further. Online we have many different personas and interests. It would be good to see this reflected on a social platform. Often these interests are quite diverse. I mean personally my interest range from product, start-ups, reading and psychology to pop-culture, humour, cooking, travel etc. These interests reflect how my personality and interest changes based on context. I’d be interested to see a Threads feed where I could toggle between these interests. I could see a feed curated with just music, then toggle to Taylor Swift then toggle to start ups. For each topic I’d see a feed purely of this style content. I think this would be interesting as we have so many different personas online. By having multiple different curated feeds based on interests Threads could serve me content however I am feeling.
A step further could be based on the feed I am looking at it swaps my Threads to a different account or persona (e.g. lots of people have seconds on IG or Twitter where they adopt a certain persona or have specific interests). This could be confusing for users to keep track of which persona they are in and could also undermine the lack of anonymity Threads seems to have purposely leant into. Nevertheless it’s an interesting concept for a social platform to explore how they can enable users to adopt and feel comfortable in their various different online personas.
How I see this working is… Threads is linked to Instagram which know a lot about our interests so Threads could suggest some feed topics to us. But then, I could add further feeds I am interested in or deleted feeds I don’t care for right now. This would also add a nice element of perceived control for users, something that social media lacks.
For You, Following & Friends Feed
Further some backlash Instagram has gotten is around friends content getting lost. Instagram has become very much a feed full of brand’s and random account’s content. I may have to scroll through numerous posts to find my friend’s content. Threads (and Instagram) could fix this by curating a feed called ‘Friends.’ This feed would contain threads from people I actually know — let’s be real it would be relatively easy for Meta to determine who are my friends and acquittances. It would be a combination of both parties mutually following each other, each user’s follower number and closeness of average follower (e.g. mutual followers with their followers), account type (public or private, creator or not etc), cross platform interaction (on IG, Messenger or Whatsapp). Again it would be good if the user could further curate this removing people from their friends feed who have been incorrectly categorised as friends and or indicating a few top friends who they always want to see in their feed (close friends type concept perhaps?).
Ultimately how the feed evolves is dependent on the exact use case for users using Threads. A curated feed does enable Threads to:
- Cater for a diverse range of use cases
- Offer a unique perspective on a text based platform
- Really curate content (which in the case of advertisement which we all know will come — increases advertisement value)
I am interested to see how Threads plays out and how I myself use it. There is an interesting context for Threads arrival plus so many interesting dynamics of a text based platform plus Instagram as a platform. No doubt this is only the start of the battle for the winning text based platform.
I hope you enjoyed!
For some further listening on the arrival of Threads check out these interesting podcasts which informed some of my thinking: