A big tech company with billions of users introduces a new social network. Leveraging the popularity and scale of its existing products, the company intends to make the new social platform a success. In doing so, it also plans to ditch a major competitor’s app.
If this sounds like Instagram’s new Threads app and its push against its rival Twitter, think again. The year was 2011 and Google had recently launched a social network called Google+, which aimed to “facebook killer, Google put the new site in front of many of its users who depended on its search and other products, and expanded Google+ to more than 90 million users within the first year.
But by 2018, Google+ had been relegated to the ashes of history. Despite the Internet search giant’s massive audience, its social network failed to catch on as people flocked to Facebook — and later Instagram — and other social apps.
In the history of Silicon Valley, big tech companies have often used their scale as an inherent advantage to become even bigger tech companies. But as Google+ shows, going big alone is no guarantee of winning the volatile and quirky social media market.
That’s the challenge Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, now faces as he tries to unseat Twitter to make Threads the dominant app for real-time, public conversation. If tech history is any guide, size and scale are solid foundations – but ultimately can only go so far.
What comes next is very difficult. Mr. Zuckerberg wanted people to be able to find friends and influencers on Threads in casual and sometimes awkward ways, which Twitter has managed to accomplish. He has to make sure that the threads are not filled with spam and grifters. They need people to be patient about the app updates that are in the works.
In short, he wants users to find the threads engaging enough that they keep coming back.
“If you launch a gimmick app or something that hasn’t been fully demonstrated yet, it could be counterproductive and you could see a lot of people churning out the door,” Eric Seifert, said an independent mobile analyst who closely follows Meta. apps.
At the moment, Threads seems to be an overnight success. Within hours of the app’s launch last Wednesday, Mr Zuckerberg said 10 million people had signed up for Threads. As of Monday, it has grown to 100 million people. According to analytics firm SimilarWeb, it was the first app to do so in that time frame, surpassing chatbot ChatGPT, which gained 100 million users within two months of release.
Mobile analyst Mr Seifert described the data gathered by Threads as “objectively impressive and unprecedented”.
Elon Musk, who owns Twitter, appeared incensed by the speed of the threads. With 100 million people, Threads is quickly inching towards some of Twitter’s ultimate public user numbers. Twitter revealed it had 237.8 million daily users last July, four months before Mr Musk bought the company and took it private.
Mr. Musk has taken action. Last week on the same day that Threads was officially unveiled, Twitter threatened to sue Meta over the new app. On Sunday, Mr Musk called Mr Zuckerberg a “fool” on Twitter. He then challenged Mr Zuckerberg to a contest of measuring a specific body part and comparing it with an emoji of a ruler to see which part is larger. Mr. Zuckerberg has not responded.
(Prior to Threads’ announcement, Mr. Musk separately challenged Mr. Zuckerberg to a “cage match”.)
What Mr. Musk lacks in Twitter, what Mr. Zuckerberg has in abundance in meta: huge audiences. More than three billion users regularly visit Mr Zuckerberg’s apps including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.
Mr. Zuckerberg has plenty of experience with those apps to inspire millions of people to use other apps. in 2014For example, they removed Facebook’s private messaging service from inside the social network’s apps and forced people to download another app called Messenger to continue using the service.
Threads is now closely tied to Instagram. Users are required to have an Instagram account in order to sign up. People can import their entire following list from Instagram into Threads with just a tap on the screen, saving them the hassle of trying to find new people to follow on the service.
On Monday, Mr. Zuckerberg suggested that there was more he could do to further the development of Threads. He wrote in the threads post, he “has not yet turned on many promotions” for the app.
Some users have wondered why Threads made its debut without some of the basic functions used inside Instagram, such as a search function that allows people to browse trending hashtags.
Tech industry veteran and author Anil Dash said, “There are a number of features that Threads didn’t launch with, possibly by design, to protect it’s brand” and to minimize controversy from the outset. “How does this affect the long-term viability of the network?”
Instagram head Adam Mosseri said in a Threads post on Monday that a list of new features was underway to be added to the new app that people have requested. “They say, ‘Make it work, make it great, grow it,'” he wrote, “I promise we will make this thing great.”
Yet pushing a new app for a company’s existing products can ultimately backfire.
In 2011, after Google co-founder and then chief executive Larry Page cloned Facebook with Google+, users soon grew bored of the novelty of the new social network and stopped using it. Some people saw Google+ as something that was foisted on them when they were trying to get access to their Gmail.
Former Google employees describe the product as “fear based,” was created only in response to Facebook and without a clear vision of why people should be using it instead of competing networks. In a postmortem of what went wrong, an ex-Googler wrote Google+ defined itself primarily by “what it was not – ie Facebook”.
Of course Mr. Zuckerberg could pull Bill Gates by the threads. Microsoft founder Mr Gates built his empire on Windows, the operating system that powered a generation of personal computers – and then successfully used that scale to crush competitors.
Once Windows dominated the PC, Mr. Gates bundled other products with the software for free. When they did so in 1995 by packing the web browser Internet Explorer with Windows, Internet Explorer soon became the default browser on millions of computers, and in just four years was overtaken by the then dominant browser, Netscape.
Nevertheless, Mr. Gates eventually grew weary of this strategy. In 1998, the Department of Justice sued Microsoft for unfairly using Windows’ market power to exclude competition. In 2000, a federal judge ruled against Mr. Gates’ company, saying that Microsoft “put an oppressive thumb on the scales of competitive fortunes.”
Microsoft later settled with the government and agreed to make concessions.