After months of speculation and secrecy, Mark Zuckerberg’s long-awaited competitor to Twitter is here.
The new app, Threads, was unveiled on Wednesday as a companion to Instagram, the popular photo-sharing network that Mr. Zuckerberg’s company, Meta, bought more than a decade ago. If Instagram executives get their way, Threads will also replace rival Twitter, with some techies calling it a “Twitter killer.”
The launch of Threads heightens the rivalry between Mr Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, who bought Twitter last year. Mr Musk has changed the Twitter experience by tinkering with its algorithm and other features, and recently imposed temporary limits on how many tweets people could read using the app, prompting outrage.
Many tech companies have tried to capitalize on Twitter’s turmoil in recent months. But Threads has a leg up, backed by Meta’s deep pockets and Instagram’s enormous user base of more than two billion monthly active users worldwide.
In a post to his Threads account on Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg said he wanted the new app to be “friendly as it expands,” which was an area where “Twitter never succeeded” as much as he believed it should have. “We want to do it differently,” he said.
Here’s what to know about Threads.
What are Threads and how does it work?
Built by Instagram, Threads is positioned as an app where people can have real-time public conversations with each other. Threads also help boost Instagram, which is a branded app in the Meta family of products.
“The idea is to hopefully build an open, friendly space for communities,” Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said in an interview.
Instagram tied Threads close to itself. Those interested in joining the new program must have an Instagram account for now. A user’s Instagram handle must also be their Threads username.
And people will be able to directly import the list of those they follow on Instagram into Threads if they wish. The verified Instagram users will also be verified in the new application. Users can set their Threads account to be private or public.
How are Threads similar or different from Twitter?
Threads look almost identical to Twitter in many ways. Users can post mostly text-based messages to a scrolling feed, where people who follow them and whom they follow can respond. People can also post photos or videos to the app.
But Threads is also different from Twitter. It currently does not support direct messaging, a feature that Twitter offers. Instagram said it may add features to Threads if new users request them.
How did Instagram come up with Threads?
Instagram has been trying to simplify its app for the past few years, Mr. Mosseri said. As part of that effort, he said, Threads was spun off into a separate app. That way, Instagram wouldn’t be too messy trying to make public conversations work in its existing app.
The choice to create a new app was also hard to resist, Mr. Mosseri added, especially at a tumultuous time in social media.
“There was an opportunity or a demand for more people to play in the public space,” he said, referring to the changes around Twitter under Mr. Musk. Mr. Mosseri added that the opportunity to challenge Twitter came about “not just because of the ownership, but because of product changes and decisions” that Mr. Musk and others have made about how the social platform works.
Instagram began its effort to take on Twitter late last year, with dozens of engineers, product managers and designers pitching ideas for what a rival app might look like. Among the ideas Meta’s workers talked about at the time was a broader launch of a feature called Instagram Notes, where people can share short messages on the site, and a text-focused app using Instagram’s technology.
Ultimately, Mr. Mosseri said, he and other executives decided they should “make a bet” in the space and leaned into building what became Threads.
How will Threads work with other apps?
Instagram’s goal is to eventually have Threads work across multiple apps in what it calls Fediverse, which is shorthand for a federated universe of services that share communication protocols. Other programs such as Mastodon, another social network, also work in this way.
This might sound like a lot of techies talk. What it means, basically, is that Instagram wants to make it easier for Threads to work seamlessly with other platforms that could appeal to creators and influencers so they don’t have to start from scratch on each app.
If a creator builds a significant number of followers on Threads, for example, they could apparently bring those followers to other platforms that are built on the same technology. That would make it less risky for creators and could free them from feeling like they’re “stuck” on one platform, Mr. Mosseri said.
Has Instagram cloned other apps?
Mr Zuckerberg’s Meta, which also owns Facebook and WhatsApp, has a long history of trying to wipe out social media rivals by partly copying their features. Mr. Zuckerberg is very competitive and has long wanted to own a product that does what Twitter does.
This strategy does not always guarantee success. Facebook’s early attempts to clone the ephemeral messaging app Snapchat, for example, initially didn’t gain much traction.
Even so, Meta continued to imitate rivals. In 2020, Meta released a TikTok imitation called Reels, which focuses on short videos and has since become widely used.
Where will Threads be available?
Threads is available for free download from Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store in the United States and about 100 other countries starting Wednesday. It has plans to expand.
But Meta said Threads will not initially be available in the European Union, one of the company’s biggest markets. A new EU law called the Digital Markets Act comes into force in the coming months and limits how the biggest tech companies share data across services. Meta said it is waiting to get more details on the law’s implementation before introducing Threads across the 27-nation bloc.
Adam Satarian contributed reporting.