After months of speculation and secrecy, Mark Zuckerberg’s app that will rival Twitter has arrived.
The new app called Thread was unveiled Wednesday as a companion to Instagram, the popular photo-sharing network that Zuckerberg’s company Meta bought more than a decade ago. If Instagram’s managers have their way, Threads will also take over from rival Twitter, already being referred to as a “Twitter killer” by some tech insiders.
The release of Threads intensifies the competition between Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, who bought Twitter last year. Musk has changed the experience on the social network by tweaking its algorithm and other features, and recently placed a temporary limit on the number of tweets that can be read using the app, which has sparked outrage.
In recent months, many tech companies have tried to take advantage of Twitter’s confusion. But Topics is starting to come to the fore, backed by deep Meta funding and Instagram’s massive user base, with over 2 billion monthly active users worldwide.
On Wednesday, Zuckerberg posted a message on his Threads account that read: “I think there should be a public chat app with over 1 billion users. Twitter had the opportunity to do it, but it didn’t. I hope we do.”
This is what you should know about threads.
What are threads and how do they work?
Created by Instagram, Threads is positioned as an app where people can have public conversations in real time. It also helps power Instagram, which is the main app in the Meta suite of products.
“The idea is to build an open, community-friendly space,” Adam Mosseri, director of Instagram, said in an interview.
Instagram is closely related to threads. For now, those interested in signing up for the new app must have an Instagram account. The user’s Instagram account must also be the threads username.
And if they wish, they can import the list of people they follow on Instagram directly into Threads. Certified Instagram users will also be on the new app. Users can set their topic account to be private or public.
How is it similar to or different from Twitter?
Threads is almost identical to Twitter in many ways. Users can post text messages mostly in a drop down channel, where people they follow and people they follow can reply. You can also post photos or videos on the app.
But Topics is different from Twitter. It does not yet support direct messaging, which is a feature offered by Twitter. Instagram says it can add features to Topics if new users request them.
How were the threads created?
Mosseri said Instagram has put a lot of effort into streamlining its app in recent years. As part of this effort, Threads has become a separate app. This way, Instagram won’t get so stuck trying to make public conversations work within its existing app.
Mosseri added that the decision to create a new app was also hard to resist, especially at a turbulent time 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 the changes at Twitter since Musk bought it. Mosseri added that the opportunity to challenge Twitter arose “not just because of ownership, but because of product changes and decisions” that Musk and others have made about how the social platform operates.
Instagram began its confrontation with Twitter late last year, when dozens of engineers, product managers, and designers began pitching ideas for what a competing app might look like. Among the ideas Meta workers had was a broader rollout of a feature called Instagram Notes, with which people can share short messages on the site, and a text-focused app using Instagram technology.
Ultimately, Mosseri said, he and other directors decided they had to “take a risk” and settled on creating what became leads.
How will themes work with other apps?
Instagram’s goal is to eventually make threads work with multiple apps in what’s known as Fediverse, short for federated universe of services that share communication protocols. Other apps like Mastodon, another social network, also work this way.
This may sound like technological nonsense. But basically, what this means is that Instagram wants themes to work seamlessly with other platforms, which could attract creators and influencers So they don’t have to start from scratch on every app.
For example, if a content creator has accumulated a large number of followers on Topics, he can transfer them to other platforms based on the same technology. This way, creators will take fewer risks and not feel “trapped” to a single platform, Mosseri says.
Has Instagram cloned other apps?
Meta, Zuckerberg’s company that also owns Facebook and WhatsApp, has a long history of trying to defeat its social media rivals, in part by copying their features. Zuckerberg is fiercely competitive and has always wanted a product that does what Twitter does.
This strategy does not always guarantee success. Facebook’s early attempts to clone its temporary messaging app Snapchat, for example, were initially unsuccessful.
However, Meta has continued to emulate its competitors. In 2020, it launched Reels, a tool that mimics TikTok and focuses on short videos, which has since gone mainstream.
Where will the topics be available?
The themes can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in the US and about 100 other countries starting Wednesday. And it has plans to expand further.
However, Meta said that at this early stage, themes will not be available in the European Union (EU), one of the company’s largest markets. In the coming months, the European Union will implement a Digital Markets Act that limits the way the largest technology companies share data between services. Meta said it was waiting to learn more details about the law’s implementation before launching the new app in the 27-nation bloc.
Adam Satarian cooperated with the investigation.
Mike Isaac is a technology reporter and author The Battle for Uber: Unbridled Ambition, which was on the bestseller list, is about the dramatic rise and fall of a passenger carrier. He regularly covers Facebook and Silicon Valley, and is based at the Times offices in San Francisco. @employee • Facebook
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