Meta introduced a new app, called Threads, built by the Instagram team that allows users to share text updates and join public conversations. Since its launch on July 5, Threads has had over 100 million users. The app can be accessed by logging in through a user’s Instagram account. Posts can be up to 500 characters long and include links, photos and videos up to 5 minutes in length.
The similarity of Threads to Twitter has many asking whether it is the “Twitter killer,” especially given recent changes to Twitter following Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover last year that have left many users frustrated.
GW Today spoke to David Karpf, an associate professor at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs about the Threads phenomenon. His work focuses on strategic communication practices of political associations in America, with a particular interest in Internet-related strategies.
Q: What are recent changes to Twitter that have caused users to seek alternative apps?
A: There are a lot of changes that have caused users to flee. The most recent change came on July 1, when Musk instituted “rate limits” on Twitter. Users who don’t pay $8 a month for Twitter Blue suddenly couldn’t load any more tweets once they had scrolled through 600. (Musk claims this was a measure to fight bots and AI scrapers. It seems more likely that the system just broke again. Twitter breaks often since Musk fired most of the engineering team.)
The infinite scroll is one of the most basic features of a mobile social media service. It is also in the service’s financial interest, since more scrolling results in more ad impressions.
This, of course, comes on top of the months of degraded service and shrinking user base.
Q: Was the timing of Instagram’s Threads rollout impacted by these changes to Twitter?
A: It certainly seems that way. Meta decided to develop threads because Musk’s Twitter was falling apart. Threads launched without several major features (a reverse chronological feed of people you follow, and text-based search). So, it seems like Twitter’s latest breakdown prompted Threads to launch immediately.
Q: What has contributed to Threads being the fastest growing app with over 100 million users after only five days?
A: Threads begins with the Instagram userbase, and with Meta’s effectively-unlimited budget. Those are two major advantages compared to platforms like Bluesky and Mastodon, which have had to grow organically from scratch.
Q: What are some attractive features of Threads?
A: There’s a line of thinking that goes “all you need is scale. Users want to be where all the other users are.” Meta reached scale right away, while providing most of the functionality people missed from old Twitter. For users who would like a Twitter that (a) doesn’t break all the time and (b) isn’t full of Elon Musk fans begging for attention, Threads provides a viable alternative.
Q: What are the similarities between Twitter and Threads?
A: Threads looks a lot like Twitter in terms of layout and structure. It still doesn’t have a reverse chronological “following” feed, search functionality, trending hashtags or direct messages. It will need to add at least the first two of those soon.
Threads’ algorithmic feed is dominated by celebrities, brands and Instagram influencers right now. That can feel different from Twitter. And it isn’t clear whether Threads is going to be vital during breaking news and political events the way Twitter was. There’s still a lot to figure out here.
Q: Twitter was unique for many reasons including allowing users to get real time information in breaking news situations from experts and serving as a meeting point for activists to organize protests and start movements. Have the changes to Twitter interfered with those aspects of the user experience in any way? Do you see those aspects of Twitter being replicated in Threads?
A: Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram and Threads, has indicated that he wants to stay away from breaking news and politics. He thinks they are more of a headache than they are worth to the company. So those key aspects might not be replicated on Threads.
And yes, Twitter is already basically broken for those two purposes. Expert communities have fled to Mastodon and Bluesky. Misinformation is rampant. Breaking news threads are now dominated by Elon fans who forked over $8/month to write “nice” or “lol” in response to every post. Elon Musk spent $44 billion to prove to the world that he is terrible at running Twitter.
Q: A lot of Twitter users have used the app for over a decade now. In that time, they have amassed large followings and built communities with like-minded individuals. Do you see people being hesitant to leave Twitter for Threads for those reasons? Will people be able to find similar niche groups on Threads?
A: There are services you can use to find-who-you-follow on other platforms like Mastodon and Bluesky. But yes, certainly, users have spent a decade-plus curating the list of who they follow and building an audience. That is hard to give up. It is rendered a lot easier when Twitter breaks all the time, and your follower list all stop logging in to the site.
I have over 40,000 Twitter followers, but my posts rarely are seen by more than a couple thousand people. The platform is a ghost town.
I’m not sure if Threads will be the new Twitter. It has scale, but it’s dominated by brands and influencers. It might turn out to just be text-based-Instagram. I still think Bluesky is the strongest potential Twitter replacement. Bluesky is still in an invitation-only beta. But Bluesky is Twitter without all the things that ruined Twitter.