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Launched in early July 2023, Threads is a new app by Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) allowing users to share text updates and engage in public conversations. Threads is linked with Instagram, also owned by Meta, and was developed by the same team. Perhaps most notably, in its earliest days, Threads is widely seen as a rebuke of (and an alternative to) Twitter after Elon Musk purchased the latter company in October 2022. Some critics and users have even referred to Threads as a “Twitter killer.”
Musk’s Twitter has enacted a host of changes to strongly mixed reviews from users, and one element of pushback has been the rise of new Twitter rivals including Mastodon and Bluesky. But none of these challengers has had the backing, or the built-in, pre-existing user base, of a company like Meta. For this reason, despite some early criticism of certain aspects of Threads, Meta’s venture into the text-based social media space may be the most likely to dethrone Twitter once and for all. Perhaps this is why Threads became, in less than a week, the fastest-growing app of all time, as it amassed 100 million users in five days.
How Does Threads Work?
New Threads users must have an Instagram account to access the app. They log in to Threads with their Instagram account and can begin to make posts of up to 500 characters. Although Threads is focused on text-based social networking, posts can also include links, photos, and videos up to 5 minutes long.
The benefits of having a strong connection with Instagram are many. Users may opt in to following the same accounts that they already follow on Instagram. Meta says that accessibility features like screen reader support and AI-generated image descriptions, already available on Instagram, are similarly available on Threads. Unsurprisingly, it is also easy for users to share posts between Threads and Instagram, and Meta also allows Threads posts to go out as links on other networking platforms as well. Instagram users under 16 years of age will have a private profile on Threads by default.
In its launch statement on July 5, Meta said that Threads was in its “initial version” and that the company was working to make the network “compatible with the open, interoperable social networks that we believe can shape the future of the internet.” Meta pointed specifically to ActivityPub, the open social networking protocol, which would allow Threads to interoperate with Mastodon, WordPress, and other apps supporting the same protocol. While the language remains somewhat vague, Meta’s shift in recent years to a focus on the burgeoning metaverse space suggests that it may hope to integrate Threads into the ecosystem at some point.
Many of the basic elements of Threads are similar to those of the Twitter user interface. For instance, both use similar symbols allowing users to “like” other users’ content, both provide the ability to repost, and so on. The similarities are one of the reasons Twitter has threatened to sue Threads over alleged theft of trade secrets.
Twitter Vs. Threads: Timeline/Feed
One of the strongest criticisms of Elon Musk’s Twitter is the division of the popular feed feature, the stream of tweets and promotions that users can scroll through endlessly, into different categories. Musk instituted a division of the feed into a “For You” timeline, with algorithmically-selected posts, and a “Following” timeline, featuring tweets from users that you actually follow. Many users have knocked the new feed for seemingly showing more advertisements and fewer posts from users they follow.
Threads’ feed system works differently. Meta says that its intention is to foster “positive, productive conversations.” In an effort to achieve these goals, the company allows users to control who can mention or reply to them within Threads. Similarly to Twitter, users can unfollow, block, and report profiles as they desire.
That’s not to say that users may feel that Threads’ timeline structure is beyond criticism. As of this writing, there is no way for a Threads user to configure their timeline so that it only shows posts from individuals they follow. Still, the fact that Threads is brand new means that users should expect some changes as developers tweak and adjust the app in the weeks and months to come. Indeed, Threads has already confirmed that there will be the option to configure a timeline to only show posts from users you follow, and only in chronological order, with an upcoming update.
Twitter Vs. Threads: User Access and Accounts
Threads launched as Twitter was in the midst of the fallout of Musk’s announcement that the app would limit the number of posts viewable each day, with verified and non-verified users receiving dramatically different access privileges. Public pushback to this declaration was significant, and Musk responded by announcing increases to the limits within a short period of time.
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Still, the latest turbulence over how many posts are viewable per day is a reflection of broader pushback for Musk’s decision to revamp Twitter’s verification system. Previously, Twitter users received a blue check mark only by meeting approval of the app itself, requiring certain factors like follower count, recognition as a public figure, and so on. Musk made it possible for most Twitter users to purchase the blue check mark by paying an $8 monthly fee. Some critics have called the shift emblematic of the dangers of central authority in the social networking sphere.
On the other hand, savvy users who read the fine print of the user agreement for Threads noted quickly that the only way to fully delete a Threads account as of this writing involves also deleting the Instagram account associated with it. Threads users may feel undue pressure to keep their accounts, even if deactivated, because they are linked in this way.
Did you know?
Threads amassed a user base of about 100 million in under a week
Another related aspect for Threads users to keep in mind is Facebook and Instagram’s historic efforts to gather and monetize user data. The old adage “if something is free, you’re the product” comes to mind—Facebook has long faced a backlash from users concerned about their data security. Threads users allow the app to gather data about contacts, location, web browsing, searches, and even mysteriously-labeled “sensitive” data.
Both Threads and Twitter are broadly available in many places around the world. In its first weeks of existence, Threads is offered in roughly 100 countries and 30 languages.
What Happens Next?
Threads amassed a user base of about 100 million in under a week, while Twitter’s use base is roughly 250 million. But Threads may have a leg up in the longer term, as Instagram’s user base includes about 2 billion global active accounts. If Meta is able to leverage this user community as Threads continues to grow, it’s easy to imagine it eclipsing Twitter when it comes to overall user count.
Threads also does not currently have ads, but it’s likely that the platform will adopt advertisements as a way of supplementing Meta’s advertising business, a core source of revenue.
For the moment, Meta’s attack on Twitter’s dominance in the text-based networking space has prompted a highly-publicized and acrimonious back-and-forth between Meta leader Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Which of the two platforms will ultimately win out remains to be seen.
- Threads is a text-based social networking platform launched in July 2005 by Meta Platforms as an app connected to Instagram, also owned by Meta.
- Threads is broadly viewed as an alternative and challenger to Twitter, which has faced intense pushback on many fronts since Elon Musk’s purchase of the company in October 2022.
- Threads quickly became the fastest-growing app of all time, amassing 100 million users in five days.
- As of this writing, Twitter’s user base of about 250 million active accounts still surpasses Threads’, but Instagram’s user base includes roughly 2 billion active accounts.
- Threads users sign in via their Instagram account and then have access to posting text-based and text-plus-image or text-plus-video posts. The posts can then be liked, shared, and so in in a way similar to tweets.
- While Threads and Twitter are similar in many ways, key differences include the bifurcated newsfeed feature for Twitter since Musk’s takeover, which shows followed accounts posts separate from an algorithmically-generated feed; Threads currently offers only a single newsfeed which does not allow users to sort chronologically or to only include posts from people they follow.
- Another difference involves Threads’ connection to Instagram; Threads users can automatically sync followed accounts to their Instagram account, can take advantage of accessibility tools already available on Instagram, and more. However, in order to fully delete a Threads account, a user must also delete her Instagram account.
- Threads is offered in about 100 countries and 30 languages as of this writing.