In the early hours of this morning, while I was tucked up in bed, getting a good night’s beauty sleep before the Press Gazette Future of Media Awards judging this morning, Meta unleashed its Twitter competitor Threads on the world.
By the time I signed in, at about 6am UK time, I was user number 8,896,452 to try it out. For comparison, I joined Twitter in early December 2006, when the app had been around for nearly six months, and I was user number 40,523. How things have changed.
There was plenty of activity on the service this morning, and I had some interesting conversations. Most of them were (if you’ll excuse the pun) Meta conversations - Threads about Thread. But watching the engagement and you build, one thing was clear: Meta haven’t blown this. They’ve very neatly slid themselves into first place in the race too replace Twitter as the mainstream choice for short, conversational publishing.
So yes, if you’re in audience or journalism work, you need to start paying attention to it.
I’m not delighted about it either. Meta is not a company I like or trust. But right now, it has a massive advantage over Mastodon, Bluesky, t2, Substack Notes and all the rest.
What’s Threads like?
Here’s the short version:
Threads is a beta product that‘s been rushed out the door, to capitalise on the chaos at Twitter. There’s lots of things to like about it, but it isn‘t ready for primetime just yet.
In fact, arguably, it’s almost the inverse of Bluesky:
- Bluesky is letting almost nobody in until they think it‘s cooked
- Threads is letting everyone in, and they’ll get round to fixing the glaring errors later
But it’s good enough in even its clearly unfinished state to be worth paying serious attention to.
What’s good about Threads
Meta’s got a lot right with this product, and done so right out of the gate. And some of the things it’s done are not what I expect of the company.
It looks good
It’s lovely, clean and minimal, with some fine little touches like the way the repost button changes after you’ve reposted something:
Sure, it’s basically Twitter’s design — but rethought by somebody with more design skills. That’s not normally Meta’s strength.
Photos and videos look good
They really do. The RSPB started a “share your best nature picture” thread, and it’s full of lovely imagery.
Given that Facebook has a reputation for crushing the quality of videos and photos down to pretty poor levels, this is a relief — and I hope it lasts.
Some videos appear to be uploading silently, though.
If you use Instagram, you already have a community there
The single smartest thing they’ve done is tie Threads to Instagram. That means your Instagram username is you Threads username (and yes, I’m @adders there, like pretty much everywhere else). It means that as soon as you login, you almost certainly have people you already know to follow. It means you’re having conversations with people you know and like out of the gate.
All good things.
What’s bad about Threads
And this is where we discover that this is almost certainly a beta rushed out too quickly, to capitalise on the current Twitter chaos. There are some major flaws and omissions:
The algorithmic timeline
Most of the time, when you login, you’ll be presented with a load of random, high-follower accounts. That makes a certain sort of sense in the early days of an app. The biggest disincentive to keep opening the app is not seeing anything interesting. However, because most of us are bringing our Instagram contacts with us, it’s actually quite irritating. Who are theSEO randos, when I want to see the with and wisdom of people I know?
There is a setting, buried in Notifications, to see people you’re following first — and it makes a difference.
But we really need a “following only” feed quickly.
No alt text on images
This is pretty bad. It’s the most basic and simple accessibility feature to support those with visual impairment. That needs to be fixed ASAP - and is one of the things that suggests to me that this was rushed out the door.
Clumsy user switching
Want to switch between your personal Threads accounts and the work one you’re managing? You have to log out of your current account, and into the other one. I imagine we’ll quickly get a similar experience to Instagram‘s user switching, but this is annoying right now.
No content search
You can only search for other users, not the content of Threads. That severely diminishes its value as a journalistic research tool.
This is probably connected with the lack of search, but hashtags are neither clickable nor findable via search.
No web app, no iPad version
You can only post to Threads from your phone. You can install the app on a tablet — but it doesn’t have any native support, so you’re basically just using a phone app on a big screen. And, while you can view profiles and posts on the web, you can’t post from it. It’s like the bad old days of Instagram all over again.
The Mastodon integration isn’t there yet
Meta have made it clear that they will be adding ActivityPub to the product. That would, in theory, allow Mastodon users to follow Threads users, and vice versa. It’s not there in the first version, although Instagram head Adam Mosseri has promised that it’s still coming.
To delete your Threads account, you have to delete your Instagram
Yikes. You can deactive your account at any time, but actually deleting it requires deep-sixing your ‘gram. Techcruch:
The rationale, Meta elaborates on the policy page, is that a Threads profile is part of the user’s Instagram account.
No native GIF support
Yes, you can manually add them. But where’s the fun in that?
Worst of all: it wants ALL the data
Just look at this:
No wonder that Meta has excluded the EU from the rollout. Their regulators will not like that.
Why Threads has a very good chance of succeeding
Everything above? Details. Threads has one major advantage over every single other would-be Twitter competitor: the huge Instagram user base. Less than 24 hours after launching Threads already has over 10 million users. That puts it ahead of all the rest.
Social networks succeed or fail based on the network effect. The value of the network grows exponentially with the number of users. Right now, that effect is working in Threads’ favour. The product’s success or failure now comes down to their ability to keep up the activity and thus encourage people to come back regularly.
The real test is not if we can build up a lot of hype, but if you all find enough value in the app to keep using it over time. And there are tons of basics that are missing: search, hashtags, a following feed, graph syncing, fedeverse support, messaging maybe…
So, should you be on there?
Social media managers are all over Threads today, and well they might be. It has a great chance of becoming another mainstream social media app, and a genuine Twitter replacement. As Andy Dickinson put it:
And the audience challenge is worse for the current crop of Twitter understudies; Masterdon with too high a technical barrier to entry is self-limiting. The distributed elements are too visible to give the impression of coherent communities. Bluesky seems to have got the tone right. But it's not 2006. Word of mouth and creating a buzzy groundswell to attract and build a community isn't a strategy. It's certainly not enough of a strategy to build enough of an audience for the average user (or journalists looking for that broad church) to move.
Threads, right now, is leading the pack to replace Twitter.
So, should we be on there?
Yes, you probably should.
Oh, I wouldn’t throw everything I have at Threads just yet — but it’s certainly worth playing, experimenting and learning. And that’s what lots of people are doing already. It’s quite fun seeing some of the social media folks slip out of their corporate voice as they explore the platform…
I genuinely wish I could say “don’t bother”. As I said, I don’t like Meta, I don’t like their approach to business, and I really don’t like their approach to data collection.
But if they’re serious about winning a mainstream audience, and they look to be, then any publisher looking to win a mainstream audience has to pay attention to Threads. I don’t think it’s good for Meta to own as much of the public discourse as it already does, and the thought of that ownership expanding is depressing.
But we’re in no position, as an industry, to ignore this. And so, it’s time to watch, play and experiment. It might well be part of our future.
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