When we, Brian X. Chen and Mike Isaac, both longtime tech journalists, received an assignment from our editor last week to review Threads, Meta’s new social network, it was like a blast from the past.
We have both written about social media for over a dozen years. In the last half dozen of those years, the social media landscape has been largely static, with the exception of the rise of short video app TikTok, and dominated by Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook.
The arrival of Threads, which grew out of Instagram and aims to be a prime venue for real-time public conversations, shakes up that scene. While the new app could become a fad, it could also be a potent threat to Twitter, which has held its crown as a hub of conversation for more than a decade.
But how many of us will be hanging out on Threads? We wonder how we would take it since one of us, Brian, is a occasional Twitter userand the other one, Mike, is a long time Twitter addict, which could affect our experience with the new Meta app. Here’s what we found out about the pros and cons of Threads and whether it could become a part of your life.
BRIAN Hi Mike! It’s been a while since we did a collaborative review. Years ago we got nervous about new PlayStation and Xbox releases. And now we’re back together, why, again?
MIGUEL Yes, we’re back, this time for a perusal of the most popular social app of the moment, Threads, created by Meta. After playing with it for a few days, I start to wonder if I can kick my Twitter addiction by replacing it with a “friendlier” social network created by Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Meta.
So far, I’m enjoying it. But it definitely feels like a stripped down version of Twitter. No hashtags, heavy on the influencers, and the worst part is that many of the people in my replies don’t seem to get my jokes which usually work well on Twitter.
Brian, I’m worried that all the people coming to Threads from Instagram don’t know how to post.
BRIAN Well, that’s what’s interesting. Threads is a clone of Twitter, but Meta is introducing the concept to those who have never tweeted and have been on Instagram. So there’s going to be an awkward acclimatization phase.
But let me back up for a second. Threads is a free app that you download from the Apple or Google app store. To set it up, you connect it with your Instagram account. Threads then invites you to follow all your friends on Instagram.
From there, it shows a timeline of the posts and you can compose short notes that are posted for the public to see. You can also embed photos, but the focus is the text, like on Twitter.
What are the differences with Twitter that you immediately noticed?
MIGUEL It feels like Twitter, but in easy mode.
For one thing, Threads is algorithmically curated, just like Facebook or Instagram. That means when you log in, you see a bunch of different posts based on your interests, whether they were posted five hours ago or five minutes ago. (Is it posted or is it uploaded? Have we decided on the verbiage yet?)
That’s a departure from what we’re used to with Twitter, where the main feature is the reverse chronological timeline. That means you’ll see every post from the people you follow in reverse order, which made Twitter indispensable for breaking news and live events.
With Threads, I think the algorithmic curation is intentional on Instagram’s part. They’ve said they want to make Threads “friendly” as people log in. It seems a bit sterile to me, but I’m also not being bombarded with hate speech and racist rants, which I consider a huge plus.
BRIAN For me, Meta’s interest-based algorithm is a huge turnoff. It has caused my threads to feed a ton of posts from accounts I don’t follow, mainly influencers and brands advertising their products. I see very few posts from my real friends.
To be fair, Twitter’s timeline isn’t great either. Quality is deteriorating due to changes affecting what people read on the site, including the requirement to pay $8 a month for a Twitter Blue subscription to have your posts appear on other people’s timelines.
Another big difference between Threads and Twitter: the character limit on Threads is 400 characters, while on Twitter it’s 280 characters for free accounts.
Are more characters a good thing?
MIGUEL I do not think. Brevity is the soul of wit, right? In my opinion, an impactful tweet comes in an abbreviated form, not writing a blog post inside what is supposed to be a short message.
Twitter has tested this paid Twitter Blue option where people can post incredibly long 10,000 character tweets. I feel like that’s getting away from the original point of Twitter short messages. But maybe I’m just a curmudgeon.
I’m curious: What’s it been like for you on Threads, overlaying your Twitter account with your Instagram followers?
It has been a schizophrenic experience for me. I am very different on my Insta than on Twitter. On Insta, I usually post things I cooked that week or the last concert I attended. Twitter is more my space to write about work and the tech industry, while occasionally posting snippets from my personal life. Threads feels like a hybrid of both, at least for the moment.
BRIAN It’s been hard for me too, so I haven’t posted much. Like many people, I made my Instagram account private years ago because I didn’t want the public to see photos of my family. It became a “friends only” network.
With Threads, now I have to rethink what I would share publicly. it’s a trip
MIGUEL I totally hear you. I’m still going to give it a try, but I’m curious if you think this will be the next big thing. Especially since you’re a little less active on Twitter than I am.
BRIAN I don’t place bets on tech products like they’re horses. But based on my report on how everyday people who use technology but aren’t obsessed with it interact with social media, they probably don’t post much on Threads.
The truth is that Twitter is not a social network, and neither is Threads. Both are dissemination platforms for big brands, celebrities, politicians and the media to share information with their followers.
This type of network is not conducive to the way people actually socialize in communities. In social clubs, people congregate in smaller groups around shared interests. They don’t huddle in a huge conference room and yell like we do on Twitter and now on Threads.
MIGUEL Absolutely. I have a decent following on Twitter who mostly know what I’m going to get out of me and understand when I’m joking. But I am well aware that when a tweet of mine goes viral and travels outside the realm of people who know me, they will 100 percent misunderstand me, and probably insult me. We call this “context collapse”.
BRIAN Meta knows it too. You reported a few years ago that Mark Zuckerberg said that people were moving further and further away from the big social media platform to smaller, more isolated networks. Those included private Facebook groups and messaging apps.
MIGUEL Shout out to the private Slack and Discord groups I’m in that only contain a handful of close friends.
BRIAN And all of that makes sense. People have learned that it’s not a great idea to share a lot of personal information in the public sphere.
Also, if I want to talk to you, why would I publicly @ you instead of sending you a message? That’s probably the biggest thing Threads is missing compared to Twitter (direct messages), which makes Threads an inferior product right now. But it is a matter of time until it is added as that feature is already a part of Instagram.
MIGUEL I think there’s a kind of performative element to speaking in the public sphere, where my conversations with you take on a different tone and meaning, as if we were speaking on stage in front of an audience. There is something funny in that. But it can often get very nasty very quickly. Messaging, as a note, helps prevent that.
BRIAN To relate to brands and influencers, the text has also lost the battle. The growing popularity of TikTok and Instagram’s Reels is evidence that casual tech users, especially younger ones, prefer to watch videos of the celebrities and influencers they follow rather than read their small text.
At the end of the day, comparing Twitter and Threads is difficult since Threads is part of Instagram, which is much bigger than Twitter. If the features improve, I might switch to Twitter Threads eventually due to the large size of Instagram, which could bring me more followers. (Am @bxchen in Threadsbtw.) But like others, I probably won’t be spending much time hanging out with friends there.
What about you?
MIGUEL Right now I’m doing the inconvenient juggling act of trying to post different things to six different networks, and it’s not exactly fun. But I’m assuming at least something will die eventually and I can stop posting. At least I hope so.
See you on issuesI guess?
BRIAN You have to follow me first, Mike.