Meta Launches Threads, Betting Instagram Mojo Can Take on Twitter With New App

Meta Launches Threads, Betting Instagram Mojo Can Take on Twitter With New App

Tech News

Facebook parent Meta Platforms on Wednesday launched Threads, a stand-alone microblogging app that takes direct aim at Twitter as user unrest on that platform has grown since Elon Musk took the company over in October.

Threads, which began allowing some posts earlier this week from people including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and journalists and celebrities, rolled out to users around the world. The app will use some of Instagram’s infrastructure and allow people to use their Instagram login, a step that is likely to help it gain a following quickly, analysts have said. Zuckerberg said in a post on the app that it gained 2 million sign-ups in the first two hours after its release.

“This is a space Twitter has been in and led for a while, but our perspective here is that there is an opportunity and people are looking for more choices,” said Connor Hayes, Instagram’s vice president of product.

A few hours after Threads went live, Musk tweeted: “It is infinitely preferable to be attacked by strangers on Twitter, than indulge in the false happiness of hide-the-pain Instagram.”

Meta moved aggressively in recent weeks to launch Threads, accelerating the timing on several occasions as Twitter users began to revolt after Musk late last week imposed limits on how many posts users can see a day. It is launching without advertising following the company’s pattern of seeking a critical mass of engaged users before giving priority to profit and revenue.

While some analysts cautioned that it wasn’t immediately clear how much additional revenue the company stands to gain from the new product, Zuckerberg and other executives in recent weeks enthusiastically embraced the possibility of competing directly with Twitter.

“Let’s do this. Welcome to Threads,” Zuckerberg posted on the new app. After the launch, which came Wednesday evening in the U.S., he spent time responding to various users on the new app, discussing movies and other topics. “It’ll take some time, but I think there should be a public conversations app with 1 billion+ people on it,” he posted Wednesday. “Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it. Hopefully we will.”

There will be no limit to how many posts users can see on Threads, executives said. That was among the key differentiators between the two apps, but otherwise they appear quite similar, with Threads allowing users to make posts that are up to 500 characters long, post links, photos and videos that are up to five minutes long.

Users’ Threads feeds will include posts from people they follow as well as recommended content from others. Users will also be able to turn on notifications for specific users, as is possible on Twitter. Meta is positioning Threads as a “separate space for real-time updates and public conversations.”

The launch showcases the extent to which a lot of innovation at Meta has taken place through Instagram. In 2016, Instagram launched Stories to rival Snapchat, and in 2020, Instagram rolled out Reels, a short-form video feature that competes with TikTok. In Threads, Meta will leverage the popularity of Instagram to compete with Twitter.

Hayes said he couldn’t commit to adding advertisements to Threads in the future, but for now, Meta is focused on growing the app.

“We’ve shown over time that as a company we’re able to deliver ads products that are relevant to people…but we need to build the consumer and creator value first,” Hayes said.

Threads’ arrival comes amid a tumultuous time for Twitter since Musk took over in October. After Musk limited how many posts users could see last week, he twice increased the number of allowed posts, which was higher for subscribers. He also said the company was taking steps to combat “extreme levels of data scraping” related to training artificial-intelligence models.

Since Musk’s acquisition, Twitter has experienced numerous technical issues, removed thousands of employees, lost users and advertisers and was criticized for how the service moderates content. Those issues have led many Twitter users to voice that they want an alternative.

“Twitter is still the best place for real-time updates, but its cracks have shown for some time beyond Musk’s purchase, and this could be the opportune time for Meta to pounce,” said Daniel Newman, CEO of the Futurum Group, a research and advisory firm.

Hayes, the Instagram executive helping to lead the launch, said people are yearning for “an app that’s built for conversations that feels more productive and positive.”

“You’ll hear that there’s hunger for something new, and so we’re hoping to launch this at a time where people have an appetite for that,” Hayes said.

Another differentiator for Threads and Twitter is that Meta’s new app will eventually be interoperable with other services that also use the ActivityPub social-network protocol, including Mastodon and WordPress. Meta said this means that posts from Threads users who have public profiles will be visible to users from other apps that use ActivityPub. Meta didn’t say when exactly Threads will connect with ActivityPub.

Threads will also rely on Instagram’s existing suite of safety and user controls, Meta said. Users 16 and under will have private profiles turned on by default when they join Threads. Threads users will be able to control who can mention or reply to them as well as designate the app to filter out replies that contain specific words. The app will allow people to easily follow others whom they already follow on Instagram.

The app is launching on Apple’s App Store as well as the Google Play Store and will be available in more than 100 countries. Threads will also be accessible through the web. Notably, Threads won’t be immediately available in the European Union due to uncertainty about whether it will be compliant with new tech regulations there. Hayes said Meta needs extra time before launching Threads in the EU.

Notable missing features are the use of hashtags and the ability to search for specific posts, Hayes said. The company is considering adding those features in future updates, he said.

Instagram is popular among younger individuals and now counts more than two billion people among its monthly active users.

“You have to think that it gives you a head start when launching a new platform when you’ve got that type of user base already in place and you can cross promote,” said David Heger, an analyst at Edward Jones.

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