A Bit More on my Skepticism about Threads
The new platform's only real advantage is that it's new, but it's poised to make all the same mistakes that cratered Twitter.
Zuckerberg-headed Meta released its new “Twitter killer” earlier this month, called Threads. As its userbase comes largely from Meta-owned Instagram with only a couple of taps on the screen of your favorite mobile device, the platform saw an explosion of growth in its first week, with over 100 million users signing up. I installed it and checked it out, and found it to be lacking in features, even compared to Twitter, but filled with optimistic posts about how this is the next big thing. It feels similar to how Google+ felt shortly after its slow-rolled release in 2011, or how Twitter felt, a few years earlier. Everyone’s excited, but there’s nothing to do. I wrote about it before I tried it, and now that I have tried it, I don’t have any particular interest in it. I actually just uninstalled the app after not having opened it at all since the day I tried it out.
The lack of features is being addressed over time by Meta’s developers, adding functionality presumably as they finish writing and testing it. So under these conditions, it seems more than possible that Threads will eventually replicate all of Twitter’s functionality. But that still just produces a product that works exactly like Twitter, which is less than exciting. More on that later.
On the web, Threads is only accessible in a read-only context. All meaningful interaction requires the use of the official mobile app. There is no public API, no access for anyone who doesn't consent to data collection, and as of now, no framework available for making third party apps. This means that all users of the platform are 100% subject to the whims of Meta. There’s no access available to anyone who doesn’t consent to data collection. There’s no view of the platform that Meta does not control.
Threads and other commercial entities are hellbent on eating up the market that Twitter/X is vomiting onto the table, but none seem to be aware that restricting access spells failure from the start.
Twitter became colossal because it was accessible to the world. There was a powerful API that they provided, out of which was born countless excellent third party apps, where all of the now-indispensable features originated: account tags, hashtags, likes, retweets, quote tweets, lists, following, and many more. From the innovation that third party developers loaded into the platform, Twitter became the first place where most news broke. It became a source of news in and of itself.
Twitter became enormously valuable because of the general interest it had, the size of the community it hosted, and critically, the access that was available to it. Twitter, Inc began to be able to assemble blocks of “big data” that they could sell. Interests and buying habits of large blocks of users. Engagement(likes, follows, retweets, replies, etc) became an element to be monetized.
Over time, the interests of Twitter’s two major interested parties— the community and the company —became so misaligned that the company started to introduce and promote toxicity for the sake of engagement, prompting many users to reduce or even eliminate their participation. Content posted by incendiary figures was identified and placed into people’s feeds in a deliberate attempt to enrage them, and get them to engage.
By the time entitled Dunning-Kruger billionaire Elon Musk made his catastrophic purchase of the platform, the “engagement through toxicity” approach was years underway, and Twitter usage was regarded as a bad habit. Twitter— both the company and the community —was in trouble, and though that trouble could only be quelled by increasing access, and taking the company’s finger off the scale to try to force engagement to happen, the company just could not help themselves, and the exodus continued.
But Musk thought he was special. He thought he would be able to encourage free speech— something he claimed the platform was lacking. He thought he could accomplish this while also making the platform less accessible. Of course, he was wrong. He killed off the free API, and locked out third party apps. He closed off the platform to anyone who is not logged in. He introduced limits on what users who haven't paid for a blue check can see. He eliminated Twitter's most valuable service- content moderation -chasing off the majority of the ad revenue.
Now, Twitter is in ruins, no matter what you call it. Threads is new, and has many users, but is not especially different from Twitter, in terms of access. And if Threads will operate like Twitter did, then I don’t see it gaining traction. If Meta’s plan is to sell data based on engagement, then I have no faith in their ability to keep their finger off the scale. I think it’s only a matter of time before Meta starts forcing optionless users to look at toxic content for the sake of engagement.
At best it will be a closed system like Truth Social serving some niche. At worst it will just taper off into oblivion like the Metaverse.