Meta’s Threads Is More Of The Same

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Oh, Threads. I really had actual work to do this morning. But I can’t not write about Meta rolling out a messy, hard to use, data-leeching app on a random Wednesday after a major holiday weekend and how we just keep doing the same things over and over again expecting different results.

This time will be different! they say.

It will1 be federated through ActivityPub so you can take your audience elsewhere if you want! they say.2

Oh also you can’t delete your Threads account without deleting your Instagram account, they didn’t say very loudly.

I am, to a large extent, whatever about this. Meta is going to Meta. We’re going to play around and see if we can extract something from the platform before it has ads and boss babes3 and trash content. We’re going to briefly hope it will be like the old days, when we actually had fun online and met people and built relationships and careers and meaning together.

We’re going to be disappointed.

In case you have a real life and don’t spend all day online and somehow missed this,4 Meta launched their Twitter clone yesterday. It’s an extension of Instagram5 and directly tied to your Instagram account and data. Based on the timing and the current state of the app,6 I think it’s safe to assume that Meta pushed it a bit early to capitalize on Elon Musk’s announcement last weekend that Twitter would rate limit free users to viewing 600 tweets per day.

Elon’s continued mismanagement of Twitter has created an obvious opening for other alternatives. King of the Fediverse, Mastodon, had a huge growth spurt when Musk bought Twitter, but that seems to have largely died down as the7 friction for creating an account turned off many users. Bluesky, the also supposedly going-to-be-federated app from former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, has been gaining steam. I quite like it, though it remains quiet. And of course my favorite, Substack, launched Notes in April, which appears to be a spectacular failure outside of telling people who are already reading a given newsletter that they can read that newsletter.

Meta has one thing that none of these other apps had: a huge captive8 audience. You can make the case that Substack has an exiting audience for Notes, but it’s several orders of magnitude smaller than Meta, and unlike Meta, Substack has been built with a clear hierarchy of writers and readers9 and it’s hard to overcome the mindset of passivity that the platform encourages for users. Meta, on the other hand, has billions of users, including over 2 billion on Instagram alone, who now have over a decade of experience in commodifying their lives for the feed.

It’s not surprising then that there Mark Zuckerberg has reported that Threads has already crossed 10 million users in about 24 hours. The people are there, and when you join Threads, you’re prompted to follow the people you’re already following on Instagram, helping users to port over their audience with little effort.

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All of this sounds good from a creator standpoint. It’s a new platform which means you can carve space out for yourself, but much lower risk because of the audience transfer. If you’re someone like me who greatly prefers writing but has their biggest audience on Instagram, then this is most promising. There are no ads so far10 The home feed is a disaster at the moment, but Meta is fully capable of fixing that quickly and I expect that it will be their priority now that Threads is launched.

And the promise of federation is enticing. Mosseri told Platformer that “decentralization is the future of social networks,” which is like Steve Jobs saying he’d allow Apple owners to open their own computers and make upgrades. Meta has been a firm “walled garden” company, taking great pains to keep users on platform over the years. The entire business model depends on eyeballs for ads and data to mine, and federation would mean that a creator could take their audience with them to another platform like Mastodon that doesn’t have ads. This suggests to me that Threads is hoping for entrenchment and is assuming that the ease of account creation will create the moat, even if there are other, better options down the road.

It’s probably a good bet. As I rudely mentioned above, Mastodon has failed to gain wide usage because the onboarding process is, um, awkward. And I see very little in our collective social media behavior to suggest that we’ll actually leave a place once there is a better option. Twitter is proof of that, as much as users make noise about abandoning ship, they’re still there getting what they can.

I can’t get excited about a platform where the primary value proposition is “you’re already here.” There is no incentive for Threads to develop into something unique. There is no reason for us to use it in a new way, either. Replication can only create innovation by accident, the slow evolution of mangled DNA creating new traits over time.

Thread’s DNA is already rotten and is the continuation of the social media status quo. It’s owned by the same company that routinely abuses your data, has facilitated genocide, is helping to destroy the mental health of young people. Do we really want to see how it mutates?

We can have fun now. But Threads cannot be the future. It is already poisoned. All that remains to see is what we can extract from it before it extracts whatever remains of us.

  1. at some undetermined future point that we have to trust is coming and Meta certainly has never betrayed our trust

  2. Federation is a kind of interoperability between platforms or networks so folks on one platform can see content from another. The classic example is email, though attempts at social media federation are ongoing and what Meta is referring to.

  3. well, they’re already doing their thing over there it’s impressive tbh I’ve barely had my coffee

  4. yes online is real life don’t get mad at me also I am so jealous of anyone who doesn’t spend all day online

  5. not the first, remember Boomerang? IGTV? The road to Threads is paved with failed stand-alone IG spinoff apps

  6. the feed is essentially unusable, filled as it is with every creator imaginable and very little of the people you follow

  7. honestly very small we should be worried by how unable we are to navigate technology that isn’t UX-designed to the max

  8. and we are captive, us online business owners

  9. something that I assume with Notes they’re trying to dismantle

  10. Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram and the Threads project, told Casey Newton at Platformer that “Honestly, we’re not focused on [ads] at all right now” though I doubt that.

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