Meta’s Threads looks just like Twitter, icons and all.
Image: Paul Hanna/Bloomberg via Getty Images
It feels like 2009 again. You’re snuggled in bed on an overcast morning, and scrolling through a feed where people are talking about their favourite monsoon snacks and koala facts; leaders are sharing memes, trolling in good faith; punny jokes are being made about followers being called ‘thread counts’.
It’s not an unfamiliar feeling, but it is one that’s been pushed into the nostalgia bin for a while. A scroll-through feed that makes you smile—it’s familiar yet fresh, and dare we say… smells like hope?
Meta’s Threads looks just like Twitter, icons and all. It’s a leaf right out of Meta’s playbook: Duplicate and they will come. And come they did. Threads crossed 2 million signups in two hours; 5 million in four—and this is before the West has woken up to the new app. Signing up is inordinately easy if you have an Instagram account. One click and you’re in. Another click, and you’ve automatically populated your feed with everyone that you follow on Instagram.
There’s some key features missing, of course. No trending topics yet, but Instagram chief Adam Mosseri promises that ‘Trends’ are incoming. No DMs, but it does link to your Instagram account. No ‘bookmark’ option, which is one of the few new things Twitter has done well. It’s only been a few hours though, so we’ll give it some time to roll out the bells and whistles. “There’s a lot more to come really soon,” Mosseri promises.
Threads is a lot of what Twitter is… and just as intentionally, stressing a lot on what Twitter no longer is. Both Mosseri and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg have introduced the platform with the words ‘Open and free’, reiterated. A cursory scroll through Zuckerberg’s timeline will show ‘We’re focussed on making Threads a friendly place!’ more than once, something we can all agree that Elon Musk’s Twitter stopped being a while ago. Instagram, even with its glut of sponsored content and a feed that no longer prioritises people you actively choose to follow, has managed to stay somewhat friendly. Mosseri says that the ‘good tools’ from Instagram will carry on to Threads. This includes their community guidelines, the ability to restrict views and mentions and filter out certain words from your feed.
Interestingly, Meta says it is working on integrating Threads into the ActivityPub protocol. This means that like Mastodon, Threads will operate on decentralised server networks. The protocol works on a technology that makes social networks interoperable, likened to old-school chat systems that are open, versus newer age networks that are closed. This means that your community is in your control—if you want to move to another platform, your community can move along with you.
If Threads works out, Meta will own all of our social media mindshare—between WhatsApp, Instagram and Threads (and Facebook to a smaller extent, for those still active on it). That’s scary, and they know it. The ActivityPub integration, also called the Fediverse, addresses some of those concerns. Verge explains it as tearing down the walls, separating the internet from an app. It gives the example of email versus Facebook: You have a single email address, and it doesn’t matter if the person you want to communicate with uses Gmail, Hotmail or Outlook. Your contacts are your contacts irrespective of which app or service they are comfortable with. Compare that with Facebook or Instagram, where you can only communicate if the other person also has a Facebook or Instagram account.
ActivityPub, which reportedly has roots as far back as the dawn of the worldwide web, isn’t a new idea. Neither is a text-based social network, with trends and recommendations thrown in. For us who grew up on the internet in the early 2010s, though, the old-new idea would fill a bird-sized hole.
It will be interesting to see how communities are built on Threads. Twitter, for instance, isn’t where you go to see where your friends are travelling to. Having your Instagram audience—uncles, school friends, fashionistas and all—as instant viewers of your thoughts in text is a double-edged sword. What keeps Instagram shiny and mostly safe is that it is a closed community where people are seeking what’s shiny and mostly safe. Twitter’s strengths lie in that it is a forum for discussion, debate and questioning. That said, that’s also what has led to its undoing, bringing in toxic politics and hidden agenda to the fore.
Twitter, back in the 2010s, was about discovery: Of funny people, of new music, of thoughts you hadn’t encountered, of blood donors in time of need. Everyone was building their own communities, ready to be kind to a stranger or offer a wry well-worded response. Most importantly, Twitter was fun—it had a sense of humour. Twitter is what India’s standup comedy scene was built on… and Twitter is where it collapsed.
Can Threads rekindle some of that spirit? Or like with baggage from a toxic past relationship, have we changed too much?