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Threads (Image: Tina Tiller)
Threads (Image: Tina Tiller)

InternetJuly 6, 2023

Ten thoughts about Threads, the new Meta-owned Twitter alternative

Threads (Image: Tina Tiller)
Threads (Image: Tina Tiller)

Stewart Sowman-Lund joins Instagram’s new Twitter knock-off, Threads. 

Ever since Elon Musk swooped into Twitter and set about destroying it step by step from the inside, those of us most loyal to the bird app have been waiting for a suitable replacement. First we flocked to Mastodon, before realising it was never going to be the new Twitter. Next, there was BlueSky, the one Twitter’s ex-boss Jack Dorsey is involved with. All the while, Twitter kept on getting shitter and less user-friendly by the day. 

Now, after much anticipation, there’s Threads. The next attempt at replacing Twitter is differentiated from the others by the fact it’s owned by a direct competitor: Meta. Not only that, it’s tightly integrated with Instagram, which instantly gives it the credibility that other alternative Twitters never had.

But what’s it actually like? And does it have a chance of becoming the new Twitter? Here are ten quick observations after a few hours spent on Threads.

First impression: it’s clean

Coming from Meta, of course it was going to look sleek. The account setup process took just a few seconds. Download the app, link your Instagram account, and choose whether you want to import your Instagram followers. Then you’re in.

It instantly feels familiar, sort of like a natural combination of both Instagram and Twitter. It has the crisp, vibrant colours of Instagram, but with the rapid text-based newsfeed of Twitter. Side by side, they look almost indistinguishable.

Threads (left) and Twitter (right).

One important point of difference is that on Threads you can share posts from Instagram without them just appearing as a link. Twitter’s refusal to allow for Instagram sharing always seemed petty.

And a brief sidenote: At least on Apple, it’s listed as “Threads, an Instagram app” in the app store and won’t show up if you just type in Threads. I don’t know why.

The feed is frustratingly algorithmic

I was instantly confused by Threads’ newsfeed. Despite following a bunch of people I was already connected to on Instagram, my feed was almost entirely filled with random accounts from around the world. People I had literally never heard of. Some had blue ticks, while others had usernames that were indiscernible. As the day went on the algorithm seemed to learn a bit more and started offering more recognisable names in the feed, but it still felt slightly impersonal. The feed is largely populated with accounts that the algorithm thinks you might like to interact with, rather than people you have ever interacted with before. Why do I care what a person with 12 followers in England has to say about the new Olivia Rodrigo song? Who knows, but Threads thinks I might. 

I went on the hunt for new followers and Threads presented me with a list of entirely random people, including one with a blue tick ominously identified only as The Professor.

Who are these people

Another criticism is that Threads has made the call not to make its news feed a replica of OG Twitter, but of 2023 Twitter. That means there is no option to have your news feed delivered chronologically. It’s very similar to, though slightly shabbier than, Twitter’s “for you” feed. I think Threads would be smart to introduce a time ordered feed that only shows content from people you follow.

Everyone shows up by their username

Scrolling through your feed is really disorienting because everyone shows up by their username and not their real name. That means it feels instantly biased towards businesses, because their usernames are usually the same as their display name. Threads instantly imports your username from Instagram, meaning my feed was filled up with a lot of accounts with names like “coolguy_69_XXX” or just “keith”. It was very hard to work out if I knew anyone.

You can’t send direct messages

If you want to send a DM, you’ll have to move over to the regular old Instagram app and find the same account there.

It already has two million users

And that was just a couple of hours after going live. By comparison, Twitter has something like 230 million. 

Instagram, however, has two billion users. If even half of them choose to sign up for Threads, it will become the eighth biggest social media platform.

There’s no desktop website

Visiting just displays a blank page with no user interface. But if someone shares a thread on another platform, you can view that on desktop. You just can’t interact with it whatsoever. It seems as though a desktop version of Threads is in the works. 

There aren’t many celebrities

Twitter arguably has too many celebrities on it, but at this point Threads seems largely filled with businesses and random people. There’s not a Taylor Swift or a Beyonce or a Britney Spears or a Lady Gaga in sight. Oh, but there is Gordon Ramsay.

Elon Musk doesn’t have an account

A huge plus for Threads.

… but Mark Zuckerberg does

And he might reply to you. Our friends at Shit You Should Care About had this bizarre interaction.

Overall, it feels like… maybe it will work?

Zuckerberg, in one of his first posts on Threads, said that Twitter had failed to become the definitive conversation app it set out to be. His hope was that Threads could reach that potential. It will instantly benefit from its connection to Instagram. While other Twitter replacements like Mastodon have experienced flurries of interest, they failed to replicate the vast network of users that Twitter has cultivated. By contrast, Threads pulls your account information directly from Instagram, meaning you can set up an account – and a network – in seconds.

It’s also part of something called the “fediverse”, meaning it will link to other social networks that aren’t owned by Meta. “Our vision is that Threads will enable you to communicate with people on other fediverse platforms that we don’t own or control. This means that your Threads profile can follow and be followed by people using different servers on the fediverse,” says Meta.

But there are some obvious flaws, particularly around the newsfeed and the inability to send DMs, and the fact you can’t pull it up on desktop just yet. But these are all, in theory, easy fixes.

One more important note: per the terms and conditions you probably agreed to without reading, you can only deactivate your Threads account if you also deactivate your Instagram. So if you’re just popping onto Threads to see what the fuss is about, beware you will be on there forever (or until you delete your Instagram).

Keep going!