July 16, 2024

After months of speculation and secrecy, Mark Zuckerberg’s long-rumored Twitter rival app is finally here.

The new app, called Threads, launched Wednesday as a companion to Instagram. Instagram is the popular photo-sharing network that Zuckerberg’s company Meta acquired more than a decade ago. If Instagram executives have their way, Threads would also replace rival Twitter, which some technologists have dubbed the “Twitter killer.”

The launch of Threads intensifies the rivalry between Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, who bought Twitter last year. Musk has changed the Twitter experience by tweaking its algorithm and other features, and recently sparked outrage by imposing a temporary limit on the number of tweets people can read while using the app.

In recent months, a number of tech companies have tried to capitalize on Twitter’s turmoil. But Threads has an edge, backed by Meta’s deep pockets and Instagram’s massive user base of more than 2 billion monthly active users worldwide.

On Wednesday, Zuckerberg posted on his Threads account: “I think there should be a public conversation app with over a billion users. Twitter had a chance to do that, but it hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully we will. “

Here’s what to know about threads.

Threads was built by Instagram as an app where people could have real-time open conversations with each other. Threads also helps drive the growth of Instagram, a popular app in the Meta family of products.

“The idea is to create an open, friendly space for the community,” Instagram head Adam Mosseri said in an interview.

Instagram ties Threads closely to itself. Those interested in signing up for the new application are currently required to have an Instagram account. The user’s Instagram account must also be their Threads username.

People can also import the list of people they follow on Instagram directly into Threads if they want. Verified users of Instagram will also be verified on the new app. Users can make their Threads accounts private or public.

Threads looks pretty much the same as Twitter in many ways. Users can post most text-based messages to a scrolling feed, and both the people who follow them and the people they follow can reply. People can also post photos or videos to the app.

But Threads is also different from Twitter. It currently does not support the direct messaging feature provided by Twitter. Instagram said it may add functionality to Threads if new users demand it.

Mosseri said Instagram has been working to simplify its app over the past few years. As part of that effort, Threads was split into a separate application, he said. That way, Instagram doesn’t get too cluttered trying to have a public conversation within its existing app.

The option to create new apps is also overwhelming, Mosseri added, especially at a time of turmoil in the social media space.

“More people have the opportunity or need to play in public places,” he said, referring to the changes around Twitter under Musk. Mosseri added that the opportunity to challenge Twitter “is not just because of ownership, but because of the product changes and decisions that Musk and others have made about how the social platform works.”

Instagram began its effort to challenge Twitter late last year, with dozens of engineers, product managers and designers pitching ideas for what the rival’s app should look like. One of the ideas that Meta’s employees were discussing at the time was a broader rollout of a feature called Instagram Notes, where people would share text messages on the site, and a text-centric app that used Instagram’s technology.

Ultimately, Mosseri said, he and other managers decided to “bet” on the space and leaned toward building Threads.

Instagram’s goal is to eventually have Threads run across multiple applications in what it calls a Fediverse, short for Federated Universe of Services that share communication protocols. Other apps, like Mastodon, another social network, also work this way.

That sounds like a lot of technical talk. Essentially, this means that Instagram wants to make it easier for Threads to work seamlessly with other platforms, which could appeal to creators and influencers so they don’t have to start from scratch on each app.

For example, if a creator builds a sizable following on Threads, they can ostensibly bring those followers to other platforms built on the same technology. Mosseri said this would reduce the risk for creators to feel “stuck” in one platform.

Zuckerberg’s Meta also owns Facebook and WhatsApp, which has long sought to wipe out social media rivals by copying their features. Mr. Zuckerberg is fiercely competitive and has long wanted to have a product that would complete Twitter’s business.

This strategy does not always guarantee success. For example, Facebook’s early attempts to clone the ephemeral messaging app Snapchat didn’t get much traction initially.

Even so, Meta continued to imitate its competitors. In 2020, Meta released a TikTok copycat product called Reels, which focuses on short videos, and has since been widely used.

Starting Wednesday, Threads is available as a free download in the Apple App Store and Google Play store in the US and about 100 other countries. It plans to expand further.

But Meta said Threads will not initially launch in the European Union, one of the company’s largest markets. A new EU law, called the Digital Marketplaces Act, is due to come into effect in the coming months, limiting how the biggest tech companies can share data across services. Meta said it was waiting to get more details on the law’s implementation before introducing Threads to the 27 countries.

adam satariano contributed to the report.

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