Mastodon. Post. Spill. Hive. Bluesky on the periphery. Many have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to be an alternate outlet for the masses as Twitter regularly (to the extent of being volatile) changed course with content and moderation policies as it evolved, from one controversy to another. Yet, there is a sense of certainty about Threads, another social media platform by Meta, a company that knows social media networks rather well. (ALSO READ: Meta’s Threads app is live in India. How to sign up, create posts | Steps)
The billionaire cage fight can wait.
Meta, and therefore Threads, is able reach a much wider audience via its existing user base, something the likes of Mastodon, Post and others did not have. The close ties to Instagram, may be its trump card, in the short run, to get users signed up quickly. As probably would be, going live, ahead of time. “Just passed 5 million sign ups in the first four hours…,” wrote Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, in a thread earlier today.
The excitement is palpable, as new user follows and thread interaction notifications have been buzzing on the phone since morning. It still is, as I write. It is a good indicator of timing and synergy with Instagram, to simplify signups. Threads arrived ahead of its announced time, supposed to be later today, not that anyone seems to be complaining. In the broader scheme of things, it also arrives at the perfect time to counter Twitter’s latest mandate, which limits the number of posts a user can see every day.
Though Meta is able to release the Instagram built Threads in 100 countries, the EU region isn’t on the list for now. Complications around compliance with the Digital Markets Act which comes into effect next year, play their part, since Meta is classified as a “gatekeeper” platform according to the definition of the incoming laws.
First cut, focus must shift to refinement
Threads has now gone live for Apple iPhone users on the App Store, and for Android users on Google’s Play Store. At the time of writing this, a web version of Threads isn’t available, but we hope that would change soon. For now, the web version (threads.net) simply points you to the app download.
An immediate takeaway from the short time we’ve spent on Threads so far – it retains the sort of intuitiveness and ease of use which Twitter also exhibited, till a few years ago. But the app, in its initial stages of refinement post a wider roll-out, still has a few rough edges.
The Search function on Threads only finds accounts and does not search for specific words within threads posted by other users. There are also no hashtags yet on the platform, which in the long term, may render the task of search, a bit tedious. There is no option to bookmark any thread for later reference.
On the iPhone app, specifically, we noticed the app crashes if a new Threads notification comes through while you’re scrolling the feed.
Also, image uploads will happen as if from the phone since there is no image editing or cropping feature. Surprisingly enough, for a Meta product, there are no filters or any layer of augmented excitement, whilst dealing with images that’ll accompany threads.
It may very well be the case that Meta brought forward the official release of Threads, to gain an advantage of timing. The tweaks and updates to make the app better, will arrive in due course.
Synergy, to build a willing audience
Threads has been ‘built’ by the same team that develops Instagram, and hence close ties between both Meta networks. So much so, the account system is the same. Simply put, existing Instagram users, get started with Threads, by simply replicating their Instagram profile details. This will make follows now, and later, easier.
Just an observation. Meta seems to be avoiding referencing its often-criticised Facebook platform, in any messaging around Threads, instead focusing on how this is an Instagram sibling.
“The vision for Threads is to create an open and friendly public space for conversation. We hope to take what Instagram does best and create a new experience around text, ideas, and discussing what’s on your mind,” says Zuckerberg, in another thread.
The main feed on the app will be ‘threads’ (think of these as posts or updates) from accounts you follow mixed with some recommendations. That’s a return to the basics, of a time before the ‘For You’ tab arrived with its often-opaque tweet and account recommendations on Twitter.
Instagram will still recommend some accounts and posts, based on its algorithm – which it will pick from the wide knowledge base of who you also follow and interact with regularly on Instagram.
While setting Threads up, or at some point later in the journey, you can choose to follow all or select friends from your Instagram follows list. This should be useful in widening the circle of people whose posts you’ll then see on Threads.
You can also share to your Instagram Story or Feed from Threads.
If you’re wondering about any limits, here is how the contours of Threads shape up for now – each post can be up to 500 characters in length. Photos can be attached, so can videos up to 5 minutes long. No option to attach gifs, for instance, at least on the iPhone app.
There are at present, no limits on the number of threads a user can view daily. There are also no paid subscriptions that unlock more features.
The privacy question?
Meta is also extending Instagram’s privacy controls to Threads. For now, users will have the option to filter out certain words in replies and limit who can reply to your threads (everyone, people you follow or just those you’ve mentioned in a thread).
Yet, there is the question about how much user data will Meta and Instagram collect from Threads. The Threads listing on the Apple App Store, which mandates a complete listing of all data (and types) that the app will collect lists these – Health & Fitness, Purchases, Financial Info, Location, Contact Info, Contacts, User Content, Search History, Browsing History, Identifiers, Usage Data, Sensitive Info, Diagnostics and Other Data. (READ HERE: Zuckerberg brings Twitter-like Threads app. Dorsey, Musk flag privacy concerns)
It is a similar listing sketch on Google’s Play Store.
Twitter, though Elon Musk had quickly waded into a discussion with a “yeah” about how much data Threads will collect, doesn’t do much better. The data linked to a user, which is collected, includes – Purchases, Location, Contact Info, Contacts, User Content, Search History, Browsing History, Identifiers, Usage Data and Diagnostics.
Is the world ready for a new social network?
That is a question, for which an answer only arrives in the course of time. Yet, a refresh was necessary, considering how volatile and unpredictable Twitter has transformed into. Ever since Elon Musk took the reins at Twitter early last year, and the change in direction with content policies and moderation, alienated a large demographic of its earlier user base.
Meta’s timed this perfectly. Even as Musk and Twitter face criticism for imposing daily view limits (different limits for free and Twitter Blue subscribers) to counter the perceived problem of data scrapers, Threads arrived as a refreshing revisit to a Twitter of a past era. No paywalls. Focus on friends. A simple interface. No ads. How long this lasts, is anyone’s guess though.
- ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vishal Mathur is Technology Editor for Hindustan Times. When not making sense of technology, he often searches for an elusive analog space in a digital world.