Threads – Meta’s new challenge to Twitter – has exploded onto the social media scene, quickly sewing up more than 30-million users within three days of launching.
Meta launched Threads on Wednesday 5 July 2023 in 100 countries (notably not yet in the European Union, where Meta says it is awaiting clarity from regulators about privacy considerations) and signed up 10-million users by the end of the first day.
At this rate, it’s set to surpass ChatGPT’s record of attracting 100-million users in its first two months. In comparison, it took Twitter, launched in 2006, two years to reach 30-million users. (Of course, Twitter has paved the way for Threads.)
So what is Threads, exactly, and why should you care?
Threads is like a mixture between Twitter and Instagram. It’s Twitteresque in the sense that you post one message at a time, of up to 500 characters (compared with only 280 characters on Twitter), and you can include links, photos and videos up to five minutes in length (compared with two minutes and 20 seconds on Twitter).
It’s Instagram-like in that the photos and video are hero content over text, though, like Twitter, you can post text without visuals. And its integration with Instagram is flawless. You can easily set up an account on your phone (there is no desktop version yet, much like Instagram when it began in 2010; it took three years before it released one). And you can import your bio, profile image and followers seamlessly from Instagram, inviting them to follow you easily when they join Threads. This is one thing Threads really has going for it – by helping ordinary people gain followers quicker than on any platform in history, it is stimulating addictive releases of dopamine, a feel-good “reward” hormone long associated with social media consumption.
Joining Threads is going to be unavoidable for marketers, influencers and any brand that already has an audience on Twitter or Instagram. My advice is to get on as quickly as possible, because there is early-mover advantage – as we saw when Facebook, Twitter and Instagram launched – and you are likely to attract exponentially more followers (and therefore ultimately wield more clout on the platform) than if you join in a month or two’s time.
Zuckerberg vs Musk
Behind the juggernauts of Meta (comprising Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and now Threads) and Twitter are the larger-than-life personalities of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, respectively, who come across as equally unlikeable. In the hype before the launch of Threads, Musk tweeted, “I’m sure Earth can’t wait to be exclusively under Zuck’s thumb”, and then added, “I’m up for a cage match if he is lol.”
While there’s been much talk about the two actually fighting, possibly at the Colosseum in Rome, the true fight is over eyeballs and advertising revenues. And love him or hate him, Musk has a point: if Twitter implodes under the pressure, Meta’s power will be more unchecked than ever, giving it a looser rein to charge higher prices and make its platforms more pay-to-play than ever. However, no doubt LinkedIn and its owner, Microsoft, and TikTok, mostly owned by a range of global investors through ByteDance, are going to be front-row spectators, hoping both will inflict maximum damage on the other.
The fight is unlikely to be a slam dunk either way. Musk has threatened to sue Meta for stealing trade secrets from Twitter. We might all just need to settle in for a long fight.
Limitations of Threads
While it’s the coolest new thing, Threads is seriously limited in functionality. There’s no way to search Threads yet, so hashtags aren’t yet a thing.
For now, you have to have an Instagram account to start a Threads account. And although you can deactivate a Threads account, you cannot delete it without deleting your Instagram account.
Another big limitation, highlighted by megastar Usher, is that content can’t trend (yet). Soon after Threads launched, actress Keke Palmer’s boyfriend, Darius Jackson, criticised her outfit at an Usher concert on Twitter. (The controversy started after Usher serenaded Palmer on stage.) Usher then asked on his new Threads account if he was trending.
Not yet, Usher, but Meta is working on it. On the Meta news site on 5 July 2023, it said: “In addition to working toward making Threads compatible with the ActivityPub protocol, soon we’ll be adding a number of new features to help you continue to discover threads and creators you’re interested in, including improved recommendations in feed and a more robust search function that makes it easier to follow topics and trends in real-time.”
For me, joining Threads feels like stepping into a poker game. At first glance, participants may appear quiet and cute, engaging in polite banter. But beneath this seemingly tranquil surface lies a complex web of thoughts, opinions and hidden motivations. It feels refreshing to step into territory that none of us are aware of.
I love the seamless integration with Instagram and how everything just gets pulled from one app to the other. It’s easy to use and navigate. No frills, no trouble.
For me, Threads holds a sense of excitement and the potential for new connections, unexpected alliances and the discovery of new ideas. But Twitter is powerful and compelling, not least because it is the preferred platform of journalists. So I’m not deleting my Twitter account any time soon and will toggle between the two platforms for now.