Threads: What to know about Instagram’s ‘Twitter killer’ app

Threads: What to know about Instagram's 'Twitter killer' app

After months of speculation and secrecy, Mark Zuckerberg’s long-rumored competing app to Twitter is here.

The new app, Threads, was unveiled on Wednesday as a companion to Instagram, the popular photo-sharing network that Mr Zuckerberg’s company, Meta, bought more than a decade ago. If Instagram executives get their word out, Threads will replace rival Twitter with what some tech experts refer to as the “Twitter killer.”

The rollout of Threads has fueled a rivalry between Mr Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, who bought Twitter last year. Mr Musk has tweaked the Twitter experience by tinkering with its algorithms and other features, and recently imposed temporary limits on how many tweets people can read while using the app, sparking an outcry.

Several tech companies have tried to take advantage of the Twitter turmoil in recent months. But Threads is backed by Meta’s deep pockets and Instagram’s huge user base of more than two billion monthly active users worldwide.

In a post on his Threads account on Wednesday, Mr Zuckerberg said he wanted the new app to be “detailed as well as friendly”, which was an area where “Twitter has never been successful” as much as he believes. Was that it should have been. “We want to do it differently,” he said.

Here’s what you should know about threads.

Created by Instagram, Threads is pitched as an app where people can have real-time, public conversations with each other. Threads also helps promote Instagram, a flagship app in Meta’s family of products.

“Hopefully the idea is to create an open, friendly space for communities,” Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said in an interview.

Instagram has tied threads very closely with itself. An Instagram account is required for now for those interested in signing up for the new app. A user’s Instagram handle must also be their Threads username.

And if people want, they’ll be able to import lists of people they follow on Instagram directly into threads. Verified users of Instagram will also be verified on the new app. Users can set their Threads account as private or public.

Threads looks almost identical to Twitter in many ways. Users can post mostly text-based messages to a scrolling feed, where the people they follow and those they follow can reply. People can also post photos or videos on the app.

But Threads is also different from Twitter. It currently does not support direct messaging, which is a feature provided by Twitter. Instagram said it may add the feature to threads if new users demand it.

Mr Mosseri said Instagram has made a concerted effort over the past few years to simplify its app. As part of that effort, he said, Threads was spun off into a separate app. That way, Instagram won’t be too cluttered by trying to work public conversations inside its existing app.

The choice to build a new app was also hard to resist, Mr. Mosseri said, especially at a moment in turmoil in the social media landscape.

“There was an opportunity or a demand for more people to play in the public space,” he said, referring to changes around Twitter under Mr. Musk’s leadership. Mr Mosseri said the opportunity to challenge Twitter came “not just because of ownership, but because of product changes and decisions” that Mr Musk and others made to the way the social platform works.

Instagram launched an effort to take on Twitter late last year, with dozens of engineers, product managers and designers offering ideas on what a rival app could look like. Among the notions Meta’s workers discussed at the time were a more widespread rollout of a feature called Instagram Notes, where people can share short messages on the site, and a text-centric app using Instagram’s technology.

Eventually, Mr. Mosseri said, he and other managers decided they should “bet” in the sector and began manufacturing Threads.

Instagram aims to eventually make Threads work across multiple apps through what it calls Fedaivers, which is shorthand for a federated universe of services that share communication protocols. Other apps like Mastodon, another social network, work in a similar way.

This may sound like a lot of technical talk. What this basically means is that Instagram wants to make it easier for Threads to work seamlessly with other platforms, which could attract creators and influencers so they don’t have to start from scratch on each app.

For example, if a creator builds a large number of followers on threads, they can obviously take those followers with them to other platforms that are built on the same technology. Mr Mosseri said this would make it less risky for creators and free them from feeling “stuck” to one platform.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s Meta, which also owns Facebook and WhatsApp, has an extensive history of trying to outperform social media rivals, partly by copying their features. Mr. Zuckerberg is highly competitive and has long wanted a product that is similar to Twitter.

That strategy doesn’t always guarantee success. For example, Facebook’s early attempts to clone the short-lived messaging app Snapchat initially did not see much success.

Nevertheless, Meta has continued to copy rivals. In 2020, Meta released a TikTok copycat called Reels, which focuses on short videos and has since become widely used.

Threads is available for download for free on Apple’s App Store and Google Play store starting Wednesday in the United States and about 100 other countries. There are plans to expand it further.

But Meta said Threads won’t initially be available in the European Union, one of the company’s biggest markets. A new EU law called the Digital Markets Act is taking effect in the coming months and limits how the biggest tech companies share data across services. Meta said it is waiting to learn more about the implementation of the law before introducing Threads to the group of 27 countries.

Adam Satariano Contributed reporting.

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