I’ve been spending time on Meta’s new social media platform since it launched. This is just a quick review of Threads network so far, keeping in mind that any assessment is, at best, preliminary.
The Twitter Exodus
Although I’ve used Twitter for years, I’ve never been an avid user. I officially abandoned (though didn’t pull down) my Twitter account because Elon Musk, the firm’s CEO, ultimately said and did too many sleazy and stupid things to countenance its continued usage. After a while, I just started feeling tainted by the place.
That said, I can’t say I’ll never go back if it changes and, unlike so many others who left, I cast no judgements on anyone who has stayed. After all, some people’s livelihoods and social standing are deeply woven into that network. I’m just glad not to be among them.
Now There’s Threads
Threads is, of course, the Twitter clone that Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided to create in order to take advantage of Twitter’s well-publicized financial failings and its CEO’s seemingly endless addiction to destroying his own personal brand. It’s a shame that Musk, who successfully runs Tesla and SpaceX, couldn’t get out of his own way with Twitter, but that’s been covered virtually everywhere else on the Internet so there’s no point in getting into it here.
What’s my opinion of Threads? Well, it’s okay. It has a certain energy and simplicity I like, and I suspect there will be features added that will make it better over the next several months. But it can also be deeply frustrating.
There are two very good things about Threads. First, it isn’t Twitter, the single characteristic that is most attractive to users. Second, Meta made it almost embarrassingly easy to sign up if you already have an Instagram account. Yes, you have to download an app from the Google store, but that’s a snap for most of us. From there, it’s just a matter of hitting a button if you already have the Instagram app on your phone.
Threads also has the virtue of being simple to use, especially if you’ve used Twitter before. At the bottom of the screen, there are only five icons:
- Post (aka, New Thread),
- Activity (the heart)
- Your profile
Below each post, are just four icons:
- Like (another heart),
- Reply (a speech balloon icon)
- Repost (circular arrows)
- Pointer (mostly for sharing the post).
Easy enough for anyone with a modicum of social media experience.
So, what’s bad about Threads? Remember when I said it was simple? Well, it’s arguably too simple in that it lacks some of the more popular features of Twitter, such as Trending, DMs and Lists. A lot of people rely on these to help tame the torrent of information that washes over them as they scroll posts from hundreds or thousands of people.
Because of the flood of posts of all sorts, many of which you may have no interest in, you wind up with a lot of crap in your feed. I think this is probably the main reason people have left the service for now.
Taming the Feed
However, it is possible to “tame the algorithm” that drops posts into your feed. You just need to use the Mute, Hide and Unfollow buttons.
If you Mute the post of someone you follow on Threads, you won’t see their threads or replies in your feed, but they won’t know you muted them and you’ll still be following their profile.
If you Hide a post, however, then all you’re doing is hiding that one post. You’ll see other posts by that person as long as you don’t Mute them.
Unfollow, of course, mean you don’t get that person’s posts anymore unless the algorithm decides otherwise based on whatever arcane logic is programmed into it.
So, What’s Next for Threads?
My guess is that Threads will launch new features such as a chronological feed restricted to people you actually follow, the ability to send direct messages, a better search function (that may or may not require hashtags), a “trending” list, etc.
In the shorter term, here’s what seems to be on tap.
Will Threads Survive?
Some are already asking if Threads will survive long term. After all, there was a dramatic decline in usage after an initial spike. The following graph is from SimilarWeb:
What’s seldom reported is that a short-term spike and then decline was almost certain to the happen because of the way the app was launched. People were curious, came and poked around a bit, then decided whether or not they wanted to devote some real time and energy to it. A lot didn’t.
But now that they’re signed up, many will return occasionally to see how things are progressing. Threads will be smart if it launches the upcoming new features in a strategic but well publicized way. I think that over the next year, those usage lines will start to climb, especially as we move further into the next U.S. election cycle.
Meta has plenty of time and money. Threads won’t go anywhere over the short-term, and I doubt it’ll go the way of Google+ over the the long term. Social networks is what Meta does, and it has a lot of experience, skills, money and existing networks from which to draw.
Will Threads Be Diverse and Zesty But Still Civil Enough?
The Danger of Echo Chambers
The biggest threat I see is the problem with many social networks these days: the reality-warping echo-chamber effect. For now, at least, the “libs” own Threads. I don’t think I’ve seen a single pro-Trump or even pro-GOP thread.
I’m sure part of that is that the algorithm is feeding me more left-wing stuff because it discerns I’m not a fan of the neo-fascist types like DeSantis. But a left-wing feed is not ultimately what I want. Rather, I want a politically balanced but thoughtful and evidence-based point of view in my feed, and over time Meta will make a bundle it can write and publicize a good algorithm that provides this balance. Along the way, that balance would also promote the social good.
Consider Partnerships with Content Providers
One interesting thing that Elon Musk has done recently is start to pay some of Twitter’s chief content providers. Meta should watch how this turns out and, if there are any virtues to it, it should consider following suit.
The danger is that you wind up paying people who are just good at lighting people’s hair on fire with limbic-system-hijacking, made-for-outrage posts. That can be “fun” in the short-term but it causes all kind of social turmoil, increases the work of content moderators, and chases away advertisers.
So, my recommendation for Meta (not that anyone there cares a fig for my opinions) is that they focus on creating constructive but civil and energetic discourse. Aside from writing a community-enhancing rather than click-inducing algorithm, perhaps one way to do that is through partnerships with Medium, Substack, WordPress and others, places rich with thought leaders who have built-in audiences. It’s possible that ActivityHub, described below, will make such partnerships easier.
The Potential Beauty of Federation
On ActivityPub and Threads
There’s something called ActivityPub, new standard for social networking that is reportedly more open and user-centric. Here’s how The Verge describes it:
It’s a technology through which social networks can be made interoperable, connecting everything to a single social graph and content-sharing system. It’s an old standard based on even older ideas about a fundamentally different structure for social networking, one that’s much more like email or old-school web chat than any of the platforms we use now. It’s governed by open protocols, not closed platforms. It aims to give control back to users and to make sure that the social web is bigger than any single company.
What’s It Have to Do with Threads?
Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram who is overseeing the Threads project, explained on the Hard Fork podcast:
[Threads] is built on the ActivityPub protocol, which is a technology that’s behind all of the Mastodon servers and apps. What that means is there are a bunch of different apps, or social networks, that can all integrate. And so you’ll be able to actually follow people who don’t even use Threads, but use these other apps, from Threads. And you’ll be able to actually follow people and their content from threads without even using that app and using other apps like Mastodon.
And I do think that decentralization — but more specifically or more broadly, more open systems are where the industry is getting pulled and is going to grow over time. And for us, a new app offers us an opportunity to meaningfully participate in that space in the way it would be very difficult for us to support an incredibly large app like Instagram. And so to lean into where the industry is going, to learn, it’s been very humbling speaking to a bunch of people in the community who look at us, unsurprisingly, with a lot of skepticism. But I do think it’s going to be fundamentally good. And I do think it’s going to translate into not philosophical, but meaningful things for creators over the long run. Like, you should be able to take your audience, if you build up an audience on Threads — and if you decide to leave Threads, take your audience with you. And theoretically, over time, we should be able to support use cases like that that really empower creators and, I think, lean into what creators are going to demand and expect over time.
Power to the People…Maybe
So, it’s possible that, despite considerable skepticism from parts of the so-called fediverse, Threads could help make these open protocols mainstream, making social media platforms potentially a lot more diverse.
In the end, we’ll see. The fediverse may be the future, a place where many of the original utopian ideals of the Internet are finally achieved. If not, well, it wouldn’t be the first time social media let us down. But if it is, then the Web might be a much better place over the next 20 years than it has been over the last 20.
Dum spiro spero