Thursday, July 13th, 2023

Meta’s Threads is here. Is it the end for Twitter?

Illustration of a blue bird sitting on a thread of rope, which is on fire.

After weeks of speculation, it finally happened. With much fanfare, Meta launched its Twitter competitor – Threads – and the world of social media caught fire.

Within 24 hours of the app appearing, it had tens of millions of users. Countless words were written about how Musk’s bizarre purchase of the Internet’s town hall was finally unravelling. Some people yelled with joy. Others screamed with frustration. Most telling of all, “experts” in this new ecosystem promised to show you how to be a Threads success. For a fee.

Yet this isn’t some fresh-off-the-block competitor like Mastodon struggling for relevance and users. This is Meta. A business with 3+ billion users spread across its estate. While Musk might cry foul and claim this is a direct rip-off from his toy, all the signs are it’s more a reskin of Instagram. Split-and pivot.

I will say right now I am not a Meta fan. Their apparent disregard for privacy, security and ethics has kept me away from their products, and I will not be joining Threads. All I have to go on is what’s in the public domain and no real interest in whether it lives or dies.

Threads is not new

Let’s be clear, Threads has not started from scratch. It tapped into the muscle of Meta from the outset. While it may not be directly connected to Facebook (arguably an adjacent competitor), it is to Instagram. Join up and you can invite your Instagram followers to connect. An escalating network effect leads quickly to hundreds of millions of potential users, many of whom will join to follow their brands, influencers and celebs.

This is not something many others can emulate. Apple, Google, Microsoft and TikTok have all dabbled in micro blogging in one form or other. Their attempts failed, and it seems unlikely they’ll return any time soon.

The rest of us have to start at ground zero. We have no users generating interesting (or otherwise) content. No partnerships to leverage. The best we can hope for is a few million accounts, most of which will be forgotten about as disinterest settles in.

Why Threads? Is it ego?

Which leads us to a bigger question: why? There has to be a commercial reason behind Threads. It can’t just be ego. Zuck trying to one-up Musk doesn’t sound like a rational move. Regardless of what countless TV Billionaires might have you believe.

Meta is showing signs of fatigue. While users have grown consistently, the 2022 numbers imply a plateau. Not just in revenues, but also total user numbers and the time spent on the platform. There are also new threats looming in the form of national and international legal and regulatory action that could limit Facebook’s reach.

To counter this, Meta needs new services to draw people in. There is clearly a demand for micro-blogging, and Twitter is vulnerable. Now is as good a time as any to launch a competitor.

The user count will continue to climb. Twitter-like features will roll-out. The utility of the platform will increase as celebs, brands and influencers engage.

What Meta must be hoping is this new activity won’t eat into Instagram as much as it will Twitter’s. There will be some cannibalization as some people prefer text-first to image-first content. It may even be a long-term plan to merge them together. All the while, the corporation will hope the numbers shareholders judge success by continue to move in the right direction.

The end of Twitter?

If I were polite I’d describe Twitter’s woes as “an adjustment”. If I were honest, I’d call it batshit crazy. For all its problems, Twitter sort of played nice and was reasonably good at keeping the cat meme lovers away from the bigots.

Now it’s unpleasant, and grows more so by the day. Conspiracy theories, calls to violence and misinformation goes largely unchallenged. Brands are wary. Celebs nervous that a misstep could lead to a pile-on. Influencers know their carefully crafted messages are as likely to invoke a flame war as a positive emotion.

As advertisers move away, so paywalls have arrived. Most notorious is the blue tick, which used to mean so much and now just means you have access to a pre-paid debit card.

Twitter is damaged, arguably beyond repair. It’s vulnerable, with the moderate majority questioning why they continue to use it, advertisers nervous about engaging with it. Regulators are lining up, waiting to pounce.

Can Threads replace Twitter?

In this environment anything is possible. You’re almost as likely to see a link to Instagram as one to Twitter on a brand’s site. Threads will gain users over the coming weeks as it rolls out further and people adapt to it.

The big questions as to whether it will replace or augment Twitter seem to be:

  • Can we trust Meta with our data? Arguably this is the question that sits above all others. 
  • Will Threads overwhelm us with an algorithm driven experience, or can we navigate our own way through the feed?
  • How long before Musk is forced out at Twitter?

Bottom line

As a Meta hold-out, I won’t be adopting Threads anytime soon. At the moment my social media needs are met by the business-like LinkedIn and the fun and informal Tumblr.

Whether others will move over and stay over remains to be seen and it’s far too early to draw any conclusions. Threads might look like Twitter, but it isn’t Twitter. What niche – if any – it carves out is something only the users can decide.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.