meta launches threads and challenges twitter's long-standing dominance

Threads, Meta’s new text-based social media app that is integrated with Instagram, has seen explosive growth in the first few days after its launch, challenging the long-standing dominance of the micro-blogging platform now owned by Elon Musk.

Threads has already surpassed 30 million signups according to data provided by Meta Platforms’ founder Mark Zuckerberg, thanks largely to its novel method of automatically following a new user’s Instagram connections and importing their username and verification status. This “network effect” jumpstarted the app’s virality, though some technical glitches were reported.

Zuckerberg Seems to be Capitalizing on Elon Musk’s Mistakes

The timing of Threads’ launch couldn’t be better as Twitter has experienced controversy and user revolts in recent weeks. Musk has relaxed content moderation, alienating advertisers who fund most of the company’s revenue.

He also removed the verified badges of well-known organizations and individuals who refuse to pay for a Blue subscription and has placed arbitrary limits on how many tweets users can view. These measures have all been the cause of further outrage within the community.

Threads appears to be designed to capitalize on users’ dissatisfaction with Twitter. CEO Mark Zuckerberg describes it as a “friendly” Twitter alternative with “robust” content policies and moderation systems inherited from Instagram. The ad-free launch appeals to some Twitter users being fed up with ads and spam.

However, Threads has not been well received by all. Many criticize its algorithmic timeline that prioritizes engaging posts over seeing receiving updates in chronological order. While Zuckerberg promises a chronological option, some see the choice as intentional to maximize user “engagement”.

Despite the apparent overnight success of Threads, the app is still quite far from becoming the next Twitter in terms of monthly active users (MAUs). According to data from Statista, Twitter had nearly 370 million global users by the end of 2022. However, researchers are forecasting that the platform’s user base will progressively decline to around 335 million by 2024.

twitter forecasted maus

Threads is a Question Mark in Terms of How it Fits with Meta’s Current Vision

Larger questions remain about Threads’ purpose and longevity. How does a Twitter clone fit Meta’s goals of building the metaverse and virtual reality platforms? Will Meta Platforms (META) follow through on pledges to avoid monetizing Threads for now? Some see Threads as a copycat designed to siphon users from Twitter rather than innovate on its own.

Plans to integrate with ActivityPub, an open network protocol, could eventually allow users to transfer their audience to other compatible apps. Meanwhile, at least for now, Threads has avoided Europe’s stringent regulations by not launching in the EU.

For Threads to endure, Meta must articulate a clear vision for the app that goes beyond capitalizing on Twitter’s mistakes. The necessary fixes are clear: improve the user experience by giving people control over their timelines; ensure safe and responsible content moderation; and establish trust with users on how and when Threads will be monetized.

Additional features will be needed to differentiate Threads and make it a valuable social network that sets itself apart from the growing crowd of micro-blogging apps. That said, Meta has already proven its ability to clone successful features from competitors like Snapchat (SNAP) and TikTok, integrating them into Instagram and Facebook in ways that immediately resulted into user and engagement growth.

So while skepticism abounds over Threads’ true purpose, Meta now has a foot in the door of the text-based social network world. Whether Threads fades away or evolves into a legitimate Twitter competitor depends on Meta’s ability to address legitimate concerns, remain transparent about its goals and intentions, and implement creative features that improve – rather than just copy – upon the Twitter experience.

For now, Threads has certainly gotten Zuckerberg’s attention by putting pressure on his biggest rival, and that may have been the app’s primary objective all along.