When we — Brian X. Chen and Mike Isaac, both longtime tech journalists — got an assignment from our editor last week to review Thread, the Meta’s new social network, it was like a blast from the past.
We both have written about social networking for over a dozen years. In the last half-dozen of those years, the social media landscape has been largely static — except for the rise of the short-form video app TikTok — and has been dominated by Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook.
The arrival of Threads, which emerged from Instagram and aims to be a prime venue for real-time public conversation, has also shaken up that scene. While the new app may end up being a fad, it could also be a potent threat to Twitter, which has held its crown as a conversation hub for more than a decade.
But how many of us will hang around on threads? We wondered how we would take it because one of us – Brian – is an A.J Ordinary Twitter userand the other – Mike – is Longtime Twitter addict, which may affect our experience with the new Meta app. Here’s what we found about the pros and cons of threading and whether or not they’ll ever become a part of your life.
Brian Hi Mike! It’s been a while since we did a collaborative review. Years ago, we wanted to take advantage of new PlayStation and Xbox releases. And now we’re back together – why, again?
Mike Yes, we’re back, this time for the hottest social app of the moment, Themes, which was created by Meta. After playing with it for a few days, I began to wonder if I could kick my Twitter addiction by replacing it with a “friendlier” social network designed by Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Meta.
So far, I’m enjoying it. But it sure looks like a stripped-down version of Twitter. No hashtags, heavy on influencers – and the worst part is that a lot of people in my responses don’t seem to get the jokes that usually work so well on Twitter.
Brian, I’m concerned that all the people who come to threads from Instagram don’t know how to post.
Brian Well, here’s the interesting thing. Threads is a Twitter clone, but Meta introduces the concept to the never-tweeters who were on Instagram. So there will be an awkward phase of acclimatization.
But let me go back for a second. Themes is a free app that you can download from the Apple or Google Play Store. To set it up, you connect it to your Instagram account. Threads then invites you to follow all your friends on Instagram.
From there, it shows a timeline of posts, and you can create short notes that are posted for the public to see. You can include images too, but the focus is the text, just like on Twitter.
What differences from Twitter did you notice right away?
Mike It feels like Twitter, but on easy mode.
First, the topics are organized algorithmically, just like Facebook or Instagram. This means that when you log in, you’ll see a bunch of different posts based on your interests, whether they were posted five hours ago or five minutes ago. (Is it published or is it threaded? Have we decided to dwell on it yet?)
This is a departure from what we’re used to with Twitter, where the defining feature is the reverse timeline. This means that you see every post from the people you follow in reverse order, making Twitter indispensable for breaking news and live events.
With threads, I believe the algorithmic organization is intentional on Instagram’s part. They have said they want to make the leads “friendly” when people enter. It feels a bit sterile to me, but I also don’t get bombarded with hate speech and racist rhetoric, which I consider to be a huge plus.
Brian For me, Meta’s interest-based algorithm is a huge turning point. I’ve made my thread feed a pile of posts from accounts I don’t follow, mainly influencers and brands advertising their products. I see very few posts from my actual friends.
To be fair, Twitter’s timeline isn’t very good either. Quality deteriorates due to changes affecting what people read on the site, including the requirement that you pay $8 per month for a Twitter Blue subscription in order for your posts to appear in other people’s timelines.
There is another big difference between Thread and Twitter: the character limit on Thread is 400 characters, while on Twitter it is 280 characters for free accounts.
Is more characters a good thing?
Mike i don’t think so. Brevity is the soul of wit, right? The twitter script comes in a short form that, in my opinion, does not write a blog post inside what is supposed to be a short message.
Twitter has tested this paid Twitter Blue option where people can post insanely long tweets of 10,000 characters. I feel this strays from the original point of SMS on Twitter. But maybe I’m just stingy.
I’m curious: What was it like for you on Topics, intertwining your Twitter with your Instagram?
It was a schizophrenic experience for me. I’m very different on Insta than on Twitter. On Insta, I usually post things I cooked that week or the last party I attended. Twitter is more of a space to write about work and the tech industry, while I occasionally post snippets of my personal life. Threads feels like a combination of the two — at least for now.
Brian It was also hard for me so I didn’t post much. Like many people, I made my Instagram private years ago because I didn’t want the public to see photos of my family. It became a “just friends” network.
With the themes, I now have to think again about what to share publicly. It’s a trip.
Mike We totally hear you. I’m still going to try it, but I’m just curious if you think this will be the next big thing? Especially since you’re somewhat less active on Twitter than I am.
Brian I don’t bet on tech products being horses. But based on my reporting of how regular people — who use technology but don’t care about it — interact with social networks, they probably don’t post much on topics.
The truth is that Twitter is not a social network, and neither are threads. Both are broadcast platforms for big brands, celebrities, politicians and media to share information with their followers.
This type of network is not conducive to how people socialize in communities. In social clubs, people gather in smaller groups around common interests. They’re not crowding into a huge boardroom and shouting like we do on Twitter and now threads.
Mike definitely. I have a decent Twitter following who mostly knows what to get from me and understands when I’m joking. But I fully understand that when a tweet of mine goes viral and travels outside of that realm of people who know me, I will 100% misinterpret it — and possibly insult it. We call this “context collapse”.
Brian Meta knows this too. I mentioned a few years ago that Mark Zuckerberg said that people are increasingly shifting away from the big social media platform towards smaller, more isolated networks. Those included private groups on Facebook and messaging apps.
Mike Shout out to private Slack and Discord groups featuring a handful of close friends.
Brian And it all makes sense. People have learned that it is not a good idea to share a lot of personal information in the public domain.
Also, if I wanted to talk to you, why would I @publicly text you instead of texting you? It’s probably the biggest thing Threads lacks compared to Twitter – direct messages – that makes Threads such a poor product at the moment. But it’s only a matter of time until it’s added, since this feature is already part of Instagram.
Mike I think there is a kind of performative element to speaking in the public sphere, where my dialogues with you take on a different tone and meaning—kind of like we speak on stage in front of an audience. There is something fun about that. But often it can disintegrate very quickly. Messaging, as you note, helps circumvent that.
Brian To interact with brands and influencers, text has also already lost the battle. The growing popularity of TikTok and Instagram’s Reels is evidence that casual tech users, especially youngsters, would rather watch videos of the celebrities and influencers they follow than read their bite-sized texts.
At the end of the day, comparing Twitter and Thread is tough because Threads are part of Instagram, which is much bigger than Twitter. If the features improve, I could see myself switching to threads from Twitter eventually due to Instagram’s sheer size, which could get me more followers. (I bxchen on topicsby the way.) But like others, I probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time hanging out with friends there.
What about you?
Mike Right now, I’m doing an uncomfortable juggling job of trying to post different things on six different networks, and it’s not exactly fun. But I suppose at least something will die eventually and I can stop making posts. At least I hope so.
see you later On … threadsI believe?
Brian You must follow me first, Mike.