Threads: First Impressions
I'm on it. It's fun and it has promise as a Twitter replacement. Also: Threads articles roundup and MUSIC MONDAY!
I have spent much more time than I expected since last Wednesday night giving Threads a tryout as a potential Twitter replacement.
I was not alone. As of today, the app boasts nearly 100 million users, earning it the fastest adoption rate of all time and beating out that former record-holder, ChatGPT.
I gotta say, I’ve tried pretty much every Twitter competitor to date and Threads blows them all away.
I do like Spoutible quite a bit, but Spoutible lacks what every other Twitter wannabe lacks yet Threads has: Your existing network. If you’ve been active on Instagram for a while, you’ll have an existing network to import into Threads.
Indeed, you need an Instagram account in order to use Threads but for those who do, that’s what makes Threads so effortless. You can import your Instagram bio into Threads and follow everyone you’ve followed on Instagram with one tap of a button.
Here’s my Threads account:
Compared to my Instagram account:
As you can see, my bio is exactly the same on both accounts. Threads allowed me to change my URL, so of course, I included the URL to The Reputation Algorithm. You’ll also notice that my Instagram account now links back to my Threads account and vice versa.
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Thread Specs & Features
Thread posts have a character limit of 500. Like Spoutible, you can include a URL which will populate open graph rich media card with the image and text associated with the link but then when you delete the URL, the link remains. Not sure if that frees up characters or not.
You can chain posts by replying to your own posts.
You can upload up to seven photos at a time and if you post more than one in a single post, it will create a carousel.
You can upload a video of up to five minutes in length.
You can hide, mute and block accounts you don’t want to see or do not like and you can report accounts that violate community guidelines (and Threads is using Instagram’s community guidelines at this point). You can limit who can reply to your threads.
Threads include Likes and Reply counts but videos do not appear to have view counts.
You get notified if someone you followed on Instagram joins Threads and you’re notified if someone engages with one of your posts.
It appears that engagement with other accounts’ posts has some effect on what the algorithm shows in your feed. It also appears that I’m more likely to see threads from people I’m following if they have posted around the time I’m using the app.
I’m also seeing plenty of posts from accounts I do not follow nor engage with, so it looks like there is some algorithm tuning with it trying to figure out what I want to see.
As you might expect, there are a lot of features Threads does not have at this point, such as:
A desktop version
A following-only timeline
Lists (with the ability to search the threads of just those on your list)
ALT text for images
Closed captioning videos
Live audio streaming
For me, the most glaring omission at this point is the lack of hashtag functionality. It is a major obstacle to community formation and content discovery on the app.
It’s early, so I would expect many of these features to arrive fairly soon.
Why Threads Is Most Likely To Succeed
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the one thing that none of the other Twitter competitors have is the ability to import your own network to the platform via Instagram.
Since you can’t easily do that with the others, Threads has a huge competitive advantage. Few people want to rebuild their existing network on a new platform; that’s a lot of work, especially when you consider you don’t even know if these new platforms will last.
That fact also makes the experience of using Threads much more enjoyable from the start. You’re not fumbling around, awkwardly trying to find people with similar interests to talk to.
Because there are already people you know and have an existing relationship with, the social friction is very low. You’re off and chatting from the start.
As an early adopter of Twitter, joining Threads has had a powerful nostalgic feel to it. Many of my digital marketing peers are there, all of whom explored the excitement of the heady early days of social media together. It feels like a class reunion in which we’re all older, smarter, wiser and have nothing to prove to each other.
In short, Threads has been fun. I can’t remember the last time I felt like I was actively having fun on a social media site.
Celebrities & Influencers & Politicians & Journalists
The other aspect of Threads that separates it from the other Twitter clones and poses the biggest threat to Twitter itself is the fact that so many of the shapers of culture are already active on the app.
Here’s a random scroll through Threads’ search tab to give you a taste of the high-profile names who have joined:
MrBeast, the top YouTube influencer in the world, just gave away a Tesla on the app.
That kind of adoption among A-list names creates cultural momentum.
I’ve been saying for a while now that the two groups that are propping up Twitter right now are the politicians and the journalists.
While the celebrities, influencers and professional athletes will attract the general public, it is the politicians and the journalists’ reaction to them that will help embed Threads into mainstream culture the way Twitter has done to date.
All the major news outlets can be found on Threads. Top-name national and local journalists alike are active there. More than a quarter of the US Congress have joined, according to Axios.
Despite the relative paucity of features, the mobile app works very well. It provides a very easy and smooth user experience despite an occasional technological hiccup here and there, like freezing up when trying to share a link to Threads via iOS’ system:
Meta does not currently provide a tablet-specific app, so you’ll need to use an app designed for the phone on your iPad. Aside from the ugly interface that it provides, the app does not work nearly as well on your tablet.
While I’ve been able to scroll through my feed, follow accounts, and like threads, if I try to reply to a thread, tap reThread or try and share a link, the app on my tablet will crash. Every time.
Very annoying but, again, understandable given where they are at with the app’s development. These things will be fixed over time.
Most apps take forever to develop the back-end infrastructure that allows them to generate revenue and monetize.
That’s because most apps are begun by startups; they have what they think is a killer idea, get to work on building the thing, then growing the user base, and only later worry about monetizing it. And even when they get around to it, they may not have the funding to build the proper infrastructure they need to succeed.
Meta already has that infrastructure built out and perfected better than any other social channel.
Social Media Ads
Twitter’s advertising platform was always awful but Threads has Facebook’s advertising infrastructure at its disposal. No one but Google can measure up to the sophistication of Facebook’s advertising product.
Threads doesn’t even need time to build up the user data for ad targeting purposes. It’s already got nearly two decades of user data. I joined Facebook when it opened to the general public in 2006; that’s 17 years of data on me alone.
While Threads doesn’t currently allow advertising, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that introduced soon enough, probably in time to capitalize on 2024 political ad spending.
The other side of the advertising coin is analytics, and again, Facebook already has a robust infrastructure in place to provide performance data to its key stakeholders: Advertisers, creators/influencers, and users…in that order.
Hopefully, Meta will publish an API for Threads that will allow academic researchers and social listening tools access to enable valuable societal insights.
Twitter used to serve that purpose. Though its “firehose” contracts appear to continue to be honored, it’s probably a losing bet that they will remain so.
Lastly, I continue to discount the value of the Twitter data I see through social listening tools simply because the nature of the audience has turned fascist and therefore no longer even approximates the general public’s attitudes.
The challenges Threads faces are fairly obvious. Community safety and addressing mis/disinformation top the list.
A good start would be to actually enforce violations of its own stated community policies. People are fleeing Twitter because Elon Musk has turned it into a Nazi cesspool. Here’s a chart from Cloudflare that Matthew Price shared on Threads illustrating Twitter’s DNS rankings plummeting:
The other challenge will be to keep the app relatively free of misinformation and disinformation, especially during the run-up to the 2024 elections. If Meta does not have a firm handle on this, Threads will risk just descending into another Twitter.
The other open question is, when the platform opens up to advertisers, whether those ads will be included in Meta’s ad library tool. We need to know who’s paying for ad campaigns, especially if they are issues or political ads.
At this early point, I am more excited about Threads than I have been about any challengers to the Twitter throne.
While you would be wise to keep your skepticism radar up (this is, after all, a product from the company that brought you the Cambridge Analytica scandal), as of today I remain hopeful and optimistic.
Follow me on Threads (and give me a “Hey, what’s up?” when you do!): @deerickson
- Don't Overthink Threads, Just Try It - Meta launched its Threads app a day early — potentially in response to disgruntled Twitter users who faced technical limits and paid policy updates on that platform over the holiday weekend.
Pro tip. ☝️
Ipsos - Threads shakes things up - Reputational rupture. Five times more Americans feel Twitter more than Instagram is dominated by extreme and unpleasant people. Almost twice as many people say Instagram is more fun to use than Twitter. For Twitter, with an Instagram-adjacent rival nipping at its heels, this is a tough reputational spot to be in…Even if Twitter users download Threads, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will leave Twitter for good. Even so, just under half of all Twitter users say they will likely move the activity they used to do on Twitter to Threads over the next few weeks.
And who will be left on Twitter when they do? Nazis and bad actors.
MacRumors - Twitter Accuses Meta of Poaching Employees to Build Threads - Twitter claims that Meta hired "dozens" of former Twitter employees that "had and continue to have access to Twitter's trade secrets and other highly confidential information." The company further says that the employees "improperly retained Twitter documents and electronic devices," and that Meta took advantage of this to have those workers develop the "copycat" Threads app on an accelerated timeline.
If you brutally and gleefully fire thousands of employees, I don’t think you get to accuse people who hire them of poaching.
by - With Threads, Meta Has Plenty of Opportunity And Underappreciated Risk - Meta’s ad targeting and optimization tools are world class, and they could make a difference when applied to a Twitter-esque product. Meta, for context, made nearly $40 per user last year while Snapchat, with similar features, made $12.98. Twitter’s best year was 2021, where it made a bit over $5 billion. With the assistance of Meta’s ad platform, Threads could do much better.
What did I just say?
Beau of the Fifth Column -
This is a pretty good analysis of the primary thing that made Twitter uniqe, which I alluded to above, but he says better: Proximity to power.
by - Threads’ big political questions - Will politicians be allowed to lie about the results of a free and fair election? How does this new platform impact Meta’s ongoing fights with publishers over news distribution and compensation?
Advocates concerned about those issues and others regarding data privacy seem skeptical of the Threads rollout. “People are right to be angry about Twitter’s disgusting and dangerous lurch to extreme right-wing ideology and its quickly disintegrating user experience, but putting faith in another Mark Zuckerberg-led social media platform is a recipe for disaster,” Kyle Morse, Deputy ED of Tech Oversight Project told Gizmodo on Thursday.
Big questions that need big answers.
by - Why Threads Won't Solve the News Crisis - There is no question more important in politics or media than “how do people get their information?” In the Social Media era, information was found on major platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The content may have been originally created by the New York Times or the local paper, but the platforms were the delivery mechanism. Even less politically engaged folks bumped into the news as they scrolled (particularly on Facebook). That is no longer the case. Facebook deprioritized news in its algorithm in recent years and Twitter is broken. Instagram and TikTok have never been optimized for distributing news.
People seeking news no longer have a central place to go to follow current events. [Emphasis mine.] There is no current events monoculture.
My job is to follow the news closely, and it has become incredibly difficult – and nearly impossible – to stay informed with context and nuance. I can no longer count on the algorithms and the tastes of the journalists and others I follow to surface the news for me. There is no delivery mechanism of consequence.
I like Dan Pfeiffer a lot and his superb newsletter and he raises very big and important questions about the viability of journalism in the social media age but I couldn’t disagree with him more about there being no central place to follow for current events. Feedly works just wonderfully for me, and for the less geeky amongst us, Google News does a pretty good job as well.
by - The algorithmic anti-culture of scale - My guiding theory has been that neither Bluesky or Threads will end up killing Twitter. That this whole race to build a new Twitter will just result in a bunch of increasingly-smaller versions of the same app, used by different groups. Nothing I’ve seen from Threads this week has convinced otherwise. But I do think it’s worth pointing out the scale already at play here.
As of last year, Twitter had around 350 million users. Threads, in its first week, has 30 million. And the most-followed account on Bluesky is the official Bluesky account, which has about 54,000 followers. Of course, Bluesky is still invite-only, but it seems extremely silly to think that these sites are comparable at the moment.
Here’s your skeptical view. And Ryan really, really hates Threads. Caveat, though: He deliberately did not follow anyone when he joined, so his experience would likely have been completely contrary to what I described as my experience above, which I believe is the experience most people will have.
OpenAI - GPT-4 API general availability and deprecation of older models in the Completions API - GPT-3.5 Turbo, DALL·E and Whisper APIs are also generally available, and we are releasing a deprecation plan for older models of the Completions API, which will retire at the beginning of 2024.
In non-Threads related news, OpenAI has opened access to its APIs to all developers (and also opend access to its Code Interpreter, which I am extremely excited to start experimenting with).