Meta Offers a Haven for Twitter Refugees with ‘Threads’

Meta Threads app hero Credit: Jesse Hollington
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With Twitter seemingly collapsing from the weight of its own insanity, Meta hopes to pick up the pieces with an alternative micro-blogging service for those looking to escape from the capriciousness of Twitter’s increasingly erratic policy changes.

Although Twitter once seemed like a rock of stability among social media services, that all changed last April when Elon Musk dropped $44 billion to buy out the entire company. The tech billionaire wasted no time in cleaning house and rocking the boat with a series of controversial decisions that included firing half of the company’s employees while demanding that those who remained work extreme overtime hours, moving Twitter over to a premium subscription model promising blue-check verifications and longer tweets, and kneecapping third-party apps by shutting down its API with less than zero notice.

Those strange decisions haven’t stopped, either. Just this past weekend, Twitter descended into chaos as it began making sudden changes — again with zero notice. This included blocking the public read-only access that had been a staple of the micro-blogging service since its inception and limiting how many tweets even logged-in users could view. Unverified users — those who don’t pay $8/month for the privilege of the blue checkmark — were limited to reading only 600 tweets per day, after which they had to wait for the limit to reset.

The move was ostensibly intended to safeguard what Musk considers to be one of Twitter’s most valuable assets — its seventeen-year collection of tweets from several hundred million active users. According to Musk, data scrapers have been getting a free ride for years to access this data, which is now being used to train AI systems, and it’s only fair that those profiting from Twitter’s data should pay for it.

“It is rather galling to have to bring large numbers of servers online on an emergency basis just to facilitate some AI startup’s outrageous valuation,” Musk said in a recent tweet (which, of course, can no longer be seen publicly).

Enter Threads

Nevertheless, this latest move is the final straw for some, especially since it’s poised to become the new normal for Twitter. These limits aren’t likely to ever go away — Musk has said he plans to increase them “soon” but not eliminate them — and Twitter is likely to remain a more closed system, restricting access entirely for anybody who isn’t logged in with an account.

The timing of Twitter’s latest changes couldn’t be more perfect for Meta, which has been preparing its own social media alternative to Twitter for a while now, which it quietly launched last night to a staggering uptake.

Meta’s new social media service is called Threads and it’s currently driven primarily by an iPhone and Android app. It’s not entirely a standalone social media service; instead, it’s launching as a sort of sibling to Instagram; Meta describes it as “Instagram’s text-based conversation app.”

It’s very clearly designed in the style of Twitter, although there are also so many ways to design a text-based microblogging service. Threads is also far from the first app to attempt this — even Apple’s ill-fated Ping followed a similar format. However, the online world has never before been so ripe for an alternative to Twitter as it is now.

Threads is also ridiculously easy to get started on for anybody who already has an Instagram account. You’ll be able to sign in with that existing account, and if you already have Instagram on your iPhone, the credentials come over automatically with a single tap. You can set up a new photo and bio or bring those over from Instagram with another tap and easily link up with the same people on Threads that you’re already following on Instagram and even on Facebook.

Threads has launched in almost every country worldwide except for the European Union, where it’s being delayed due to uncertainties with the EU’s new Digital Markets Act.

At this stage, Threads doesn’t have a web app, per se; although profiles and posts are publicly available via direct links, there’s no way to post or reply without the mobile app. There’s also no iPad app, which is no surprise coming from Instagram; a web app may eventually be rolled out, but we probably shouldn’t hold our breath for an iPad app.

Meta Threads Website

Threads is also currently ad-free, but we’ll see how long that lasts. Still, it’s a breath of fresh air compared to Twitter, and hopefully, when ads inevitably do arrive, they’ll ramp up slowly.

Unlike Instagram, which has always been a photos-first service, Threads is primarily text-based, with posts limited to 500 characters; however, photos, videos, and links are also supported in posts, and you can repost and quote posts, much like Twitter’s “retweets.”

Although Threads isn’t the first attempt to build a new social network to pick up the pieces of Twitter’s collapse, it’s likely to be the most successful. Others like Mastodon have taken a more technical approach with independent “federated” servers that creates a barrier to entry for most non-tech folks, plus it’s doing everything it can to be “the anti-Twitter.”

On the other hand, Meta knows how to build a successful social network with Facebook and Instagram. The only likely reason it’s avoided a text-based microblogging service is that Twitter was believed to have that already wrapped up — and that was arguably true until early last year. However, with Threads, Meta may soon have the triple-crown of social media services.

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