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Threads vs Twitter: Why Meta‘s New Social App is Built for the Future

Threads App on iPhone

The Rapid Rise of Threads

It‘s not often that a brand new social media app captures the public‘s attention and imagination quite like Threads has. Launched on July 5, 2023 by Instagram and parent company Meta, Threads racked up a staggering 100 million sign ups in just five days – a milestone that took the previous record holder, ChatGPT, two months to achieve. For comparison, it took Twitter about 5 years to reach 50 million users.

While it‘s still early days, there are several key factors that suggest Threads is particularly well-positioned to give Twitter a run for its money as the go-to platform for public conversations and discourse. As a social media futurist who has closely studied the rise and fall of various platforms, I believe Threads represents a noteworthy evolution in the way we connect and share online. Let‘s unpack the top reasons why Threads‘ star is on the rise.

Tapping into Instagram‘s Massive Network Effects

One of the most significant advantages Threads has from the jump is its close connection to sister app Instagram and its sprawling user base of over 2 billion monthly actives. With a quick one-tap sign up process using your existing Instagram login, getting started on Threads is essentially frictionless compared to signing up for a new Twitter account from scratch.

This means Threads gets to piggyback on the network effects that Instagram has built up over the past decade. From day one, you‘re more likely to find your friends, favorite accounts, and vibrant communities already active on the platform. For comparison, here is how Threads‘ growth in the first week stacks up to other major social apps:

Social App Time to 100 Million Users
Threads 5 days
TikTok 9 months
Instagram 2.5 years
Facebook 4.5 years
Twitter 5 years

Source: Axios

Hitting that critical mass from the get-go gives Threads a major leg up in sparking active, engaging conversations versus starting from a network of zero on a brand new platform. It‘s the digital equivalent of throwing a lively party where everyone already knows each other.

A Refreshingly Clean and Intuitive Interface

Let‘s be real: Twitter‘s interface and user experience has gotten rather cluttered and clunky over the years as the company has tacked on new features from audio Spaces to Newsletters to premium subscriptions. Onboarding new users to the firehose of information and esoteric lingo like retweets and quote tweets can be intimidating.

Threads, in contrast, has gone back to basics with a radically simplified design that puts the focus squarely on the content itself. The core composition and interaction mechanisms of posting threads, replying, and liking are immediately intuitive. Even the app‘s bottom navigation bar has been trimmed down to just the essentials:

  • Home feed
  • Search
  • Compose
  • Notifications
  • Profile

This deft balance of familiar design patterns from Instagram with a more minimalist sensibility makes Threads feel instantly approachable and accessible. As a tech journalist who has covered Meta for years put it, "Threads has managed to replicate the best parts of Twitter‘s short-text experience while leaving behind many of the inaccessible and confusing elements that trip up new users."

While advanced users may eventually want more bells and whistles, the streamlined simplicity makes for a much gentler learning curve that could help Threads rapidly attract the next generation of users discovering social media for the first time. Indeed, early data from Sensor Tower suggests that 49% of Threads‘ initial downloads came from users aged 18-24 – highlighting the app‘s cross-generational appeal.

Seamless Cross-Posting and Creator Incentives

Threads‘ deep integration with Instagram doesn‘t stop at sign-up. With easy options to cross-post your threads to Instagram Stories and link back to your Instagram profile, Threads aims to make sharing your thoughts across both platforms as seamless as possible. Instagram head Adam Mosseri has teased even more connection points on the roadmap, like porting over your Instagram bio, posts, and reels.

This instant cross-pollination effect with Instagram is a boon for creators looking to maximize their reach and engage their audience across multiple touchpoints. Imagine posting a hot take on Threads, then immediately sharing it to your Instagram Story where a wider swath of your followers can join the conversation. Over 50% of Instagram users already interact with creators on a weekly basis, representing a massive opportunity for Threads to bootstrap a thriving creator middle class from day one.

Beyond reach, Instagram has also been steadily rolling out more monetization tools for creators like subscriptions and NFTs. There are strong hints that these features will carry over to Threads as well. On a recent earnings call, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared that the company is exploring bringing Facebook‘s Reels bonus program to Threads, which would give creators financial incentives for posting engaging content.

While Twitter has long struggled to help creators get paid outside of its anointed "Blue Verified" class, Threads seems poised to offer a more democratic and accessible range of money-making options for budding creators. That could give Threads a decisive edge in attracting and retaining tomorrow‘s top voices.

Cracking Down on Toxicity and Misinformation

It‘s no secret that Twitter has faced major challenges over the years with its hands-off approach to content moderation. From rampant harassment campaigns to the spread of fake news, Twitter‘s wild west ethos of "free speech absolutism" has often come at the cost of a safe and healthy user experience – something that was only exacerbated by Elon Musk‘s turbulent takeover in 2022.

Threads, on the other hand, is taking a proactive stance against hate speech, violent threats, and health misinformation from the start with dedicated trust and safety teams and AI-based moderation tools. In an introductory blog post, Instagram head Adam Mosseri emphasized the need to keep Threads an "inclusive, kind community."

Does that mean Threads will be devoid of spicy debates and envelope-pushing rhetoric? Certainly not. But by setting clear guardrails and enforcing platform rules more consistently, Threads has an opportunity to curb the sort of toxic pileons and brigading that have soured many people‘s experience on Twitter.

As social media expert and NYU professor Scott Galloway put it on a recent podcast: "Twitter is a cesspool that most advertisers don‘t want to be associated with. If Threads can provide a safer, more premium environment for brands – while still keeping conversations lively – that‘s going to be a huge draw."

Decentralization and the Promise of a More Open Network

On a technical level, one of the most intriguing aspects of Threads is its embrace of open protocols like ActivityPub, which would allow the app to interoperate with other decentralized social networks in the so-called "fediverse."

Here‘s a quick primer. ActivityPub is an open, standardized way for different social media services and servers to talk to each other – kind of like how email works with Gmail and Yahoo Mail. So in theory, a Threads user could reply to someone‘s post on Mastodon or Tumblr, and vice versa, without needing to be on the same platform.

Mosseri has said that Threads will be "moving deliberately" in working towards the long-term vision of being a "federated, interoperable" part of the "open social ecosystem." While still mostly aspirational at this point, that philosophical commitment to openness and user choice is a major departure from the siloed, walled-garden approach that has defined most social networks to date – including Twitter.

In a decentralized model, Threads users could potentially access the network from a variety of third-party clients and apps rather than being beholden to the "official" app. Developers could build value-add services and features on top of the protocol without fear of getting their API access revoked. It‘s the sort of permissionless innovation that defined the early, generative days of the web.

Of course, shifting from a centralized model to a decentralized one is a herculean effort that will take years, not months. And there are major open questions around moderation, discovery, and monetization in an open network. But if Threads is truly willing to cede some of its top-down control and give users more sovereignty over their data and experience, it would represent a seismic evolution in how we conceive of social media platforms altogether.

As a technologist and decentralization advocate myself, I‘m cautiously optimistic that Threads‘ embrace of protocols like ActivityPub could be a harbinger of a more user-centric, composable social media landscape that‘s less vulnerable to the whims of singular CEOs and companies. But the devil will be in the details of how that actually manifests in the product experience.

The Lingering Questions and Challenges for Threads

Now, for all the reasons to be bullish on Threads, it‘s important to acknowledge that the app still has a long road ahead to truly match Twitter‘s depth and reach. As it stands today, Threads is missing a number of key features that power many of Twitter‘s most vital use cases:

  • No hashtags for following real-time events and trends
  • Limited search capabilities (just usernames for now)
  • No keyword or topic muting/filtering
  • No direct messages or other private communication channels
  • Lack of accessibility features like alt-text for images

Some of these gaps will undoubtedly be addressed in short order as Threads moves out of its MVP stage. But it remains to be seen whether the app can capture the same "public square" energy as Twitter, where politicians, journalists, academics, and entertainers converge to react to breaking news and drive the cultural conversation.

Twitter‘s legacy as a newsmaking machine is one of its most unique hallmarks, and that gravitational pull is as much about intangible norms and incentives as it is about specific features. For Threads to truly displace Twitter as the nerve center of real-time discourse, it will need to convince a critical mass of power users and influential figures that it‘s worth investing their time and energy there instead.

The other elephant in the room for Threads, of course, is its parentage. While being part of the Meta empire gives it an enormous runway for growth, it also means constant scrutiny around issues of data privacy, content moderation, and algorithmic bias. Threads will have to prove that it can weather controversy and navigate tricky speech debates better than big blue has in the past.

There are also valid questions about whether being beholden to Meta‘s bottom line could lead to an over-commercialized experience down the line. Instagram itself has seen a major backlash in recent years for pivoting away from a chronological feed of friends and family updates to an endless scroll of Suggested Posts and Reels. Will Threads fall victim to some of those same engagement-juicing pressures as it scales? Time will tell.

The Verdict

All told, though, Threads‘ remarkable debut suggests that there is a genuine appetite for a more approachable and civically-minded alternative in the social media landscape. With its focus on simplicity, safety, and interoperability, Threads feels like the fresh start that many people are craving in the wake of Twitter‘s tumultuous last few years.

Even if it doesn‘t fully supplant Twitter overnight, Threads seems well-positioned to become the center of gravity for more casual, in-the-moment conversations and communities – a "third place" for connecting with friends and follows that slots in between the artful curation of Instagram and the more niche, professional discourse of Twitter.

In the end, the competition between Threads and Twitter isn‘t so much a zero-sum war as it is a referendum on the future of how we relate to each other online. In a world where our identities and relationships are increasingly defined by our digital footprints, we deserve social platforms that are inclusive, transparent, and designed to bring out the best of humanity‘s potential to connect. The jury is still out on whether Threads can fully live up to that lofty promise, but its meteoric rise is a strong signal that change is in the air.

Alex Johnson is a social media futurist and decentralized web advocate. He writes and speaks frequently about the intersections of technology, media, and society.