When we—Brian X. Chen and Mike Isaac, both longtime tech journalists—were tasked by our editor last week to review Threads, Meta’s new social network, it was like a blast from the past.
Both of us have been writing about social media for over a dozen years. In the last half-dozen of those years, the social media landscape has been largely static — with the exception of 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 was spun out of Instagram and intended as a primary place for public, real-time conversations, shakes up that scene. While the new app could end up being trendy, it could also be a powerful threat to Twitter, which has kept its crown as the center of conversation for more than a decade.
But how many of us will appear on Threads? We wondered how we would take it because one of us — Brian — is a random Twitter userand the other — Mike — is long time Twitter junkie, which could affect our experience with Meta’s new app. Here’s what we found about the pros and cons of Threads and whether it could become a part of your life.
BRIAN Hello, Mike! It’s been a while since we’ve done a collaborative review. Years ago we got nerdy about the new PlayStation and Xbox releases. And now we are together again – why, again?
MIKE Yes, we’re back, this time to take a look at the hottest social app of the moment, Threads, which is made by Meta. After playing with it for a few days, I’m starting to wonder if I can kick my Twitter addiction by replacing it with a “friendlier” social network created by Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Meta.
So far I’m enjoying it. But it definitely feels like a stripped down version of Twitter. No hashtags, heavy on the influencers – and the worst part is that a lot of people in my replies don’t seem to get my jokes, which usually work well on Twitter.
Brian, I worry that all the people coming to Threads from Instagram just don’t know how to post.
BRIAN Well, that’s the interesting thing. Threads is a Twitter clone, but Meta introduces the concept to never-tweeters who have been on Instagram. So there will be an awkward acclimatization phase.
But let me back up for a second. Threads is a free app that you download from the Apple or Google app store. To set it up, you connect it with 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 write short notes that are published for the public to see. You can also insert photos, but the focus is text, just like on Twitter.
What are the Twitter differences that you noticed right away?
MIKE It feels like Twitter, but in easy mode.
First, Threads is algorithmically curated, just like Facebook or Instagram. That means when you log in, you see a bunch of different posts based on your interests, whether they were posted five hours ago or five minutes ago. (Is it posted, or is it threaded? Have we decided on the wording yet?)
That’s a departure from what we’re used to with Twitter, where the marquee feature is the reverse chronological timeline. That means you see every post from people you follow in reverse order, which has made Twitter indispensable for breaking news and live events.
With Threads, I think the algorithmic curation is intentional on Instagram’s part. They said they want to make Threads “friendly” when people enter. It makes me feel a little sterile, but I’m also not bombarded with hate speech and racist diatribes, which I consider a big plus.
BRIAN For me, Meta’s interest-based algorithm is a major turn-off. It caused my Threads to feed a bunch of posts from accounts I don’t follow, mainly influencers and brands promoting their products. I see very few posts from my real friends.
To be fair, Twitter’s timeline isn’t great either. The quality is getting worse because of changes that affect what people read on the site, including the requirement to pay $8 a month for a Twitter Blue subscription to have your posts appear on others’ timelines.
Another big difference between Threads and Twitter: The character limit on Threads is 400 characters, while on Twitter it’s 280 characters for free accounts.
Are more characters good?
MIKE I don’t think so. Conciseness is the soul of wit, isn’t it? Hitting a tweet comes in short form, in my opinion, not writing a blog post inside what is supposed to be a short message.
Twitter has been testing this paid Twitter Blue option where people can post insanely long tweets of 10,000 characters. I feel like that takes away from the original point of Twitter’s short form messages. But maybe I’m just a bad person.
I’m curious: How was it for you in Threads, overlapping your Twitter self with your Instagram following?
It was a schizophrenic experience for me. I’m very different on my Insta than I am on Twitter. On Insta, I usually post things I cooked that week or the last concert I attended. Twitter is more my space to write about work and the tech industry, while occasionally posting snippets of my personal life. Threads feels like a hybrid of both – at least for now.
BRIAN It’s been hard for me too, so I haven’t been posting much. Like many people, I converted my Instagram into a private account years ago because I didn’t want the public to see photos of my family. It became a “friends only” network.
With Threads, I now have to think again about what I would share publicly. It’s a journey.
MIKE Totally hear you. I’m still going to try it, but I’m wondering if you think this will be the next big thing? Especially since you’re a little less active on Twitter than I am.
BRIAN I don’t bet on tech products like they’re horses. But based on my reporting on how everyday people – who use technology but aren’t obsessed with it – engage in social media, they probably won’t post much in Threads.
The truth is Twitter is not a social network, and neither are Threads. Both 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 actually socialize in communities. In social clubs, people gather in smaller groups around common interests. They don’t crowd into a huge conference room and shout like we do on Twitter and now Threads.
MIKE Absolutely. I have a decent Twitter following that mostly knows what it’s going to get from me and understands when I’m joking. But I’m very aware that when my tweet goes viral and travels outside that realm of people who know me, I’m 100 percent misinterpreted — and probably insulted. We call this “context collapse”.
BRIAN Meta knows this too. You reported a few years ago that Mark Zuckerberg said that people are increasingly moving away from the big social media platform to smaller, more siled networks. These included private Facebook groups and messaging apps.
MIKE Shout out to the private Slack and Discord groups I’m in that only contain a few close friends.
BRIAN And that all makes sense. People have learned that it’s not a great idea to share a lot of personal information in the public sphere.
Also, if I want to talk to you, why do I @ you publicly rather than message you? That’s probably the biggest thing Threads lacks compared to Twitter – direct messaging – which makes Threads an inferior product at the moment. But it’s a matter of time until that is added, because that feature is already part of Instagram.
MIKE I do think there is a sort of performative element to speaking in the public sphere, where my conversations with you take on a different tone and meaning – as if we were speaking on stage in front of an audience. There’s something funny about that. But it can often get very unfun very quickly. Messaging, as you note, helps avoid that.
BRIAN To engage with brands and influencers, text has also already lost the battle. The growing popularity of TikTok and Instagram’s Reels is proof that casual tech users, especially young people, would rather watch videos from the celebrities and influencers they follow than read their bite-sized text.
At the end of the day, comparing Twitter and Threads is difficult because Threads is part of Instagram, which is much bigger than Twitter. If the features improve, I could see myself switching to Twitter Threads eventually because of the sheer size of Instagram, which could bring me more followers. (I am @bxchen on Threadsby the way.) But like others, I probably won’t spend much time with friends there.
what about you
MIKE Right now I’m doing the awkward juggling act of trying to post different things to six different networks, and it’s not exactly fun. But I guess at least something will die out eventually and I can stop posting. At least, I hope so.
Goodbye on … ThreadsI guess?
BRIAN You have to follow me back first, Mike.