April 22, 2024

Last week, when we — Brian X. Chen and Mike Isaac (both veteran tech journalists) — were tasked by our editors with reviewing Threads, Meta’s new social network, it felt like a blast from the past.

The two of us have been writing about social networking for over a dozen years. Over the past six years, aside from the rise of short video app TikTok, the social media landscape has remained largely static and dominated by Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook.

Threads, spun out of Instagram to become the primary venue for public real-time conversation, changed that scene. While the new app could end up being a fad, it could also pose a potential threat to Twitter, which has held its crown as a conversation hub for more than a decade.

But how many of us hang out on Threads?We wonder how we’ll take it, because one of us – Brian – is a Regular Twitter userthe other – Mike – is longtime twitter fan, which may affect our experience with Meta’s new app. Here are our findings on the pros and cons of Threads and whether it will become a part of your life.

brian Hello Mike! It’s been a while since we’ve done a collaborative review. A few years ago, we were very interested in the newly released PlayStation and Xbox. Now we’re back together — why again?

microphone Yep, we’re back again, this time taking a closer look at the hottest social app of the moment, Threads by Meta. After playing for a few days, I started wondering if I could kick my Twitter addiction by replacing it with a “friendlier” social network built by Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

I’m enjoying it so far. But it does feel like a stripped-down version of Twitter. No hashtags, heavy focus on influencers – worst of all, a lot of people in my replies don’t seem to get my usual jokes that are popular on Twitter.

Brian, I’m worried that everyone who accesses Threads from Instagram doesn’t know how to post.

brian Well, here’s the funny thing. Threads is a Twitter clone, but Meta is introducing the concept to Twitter users who have never used Instagram. Therefore, there will be an awkward adaptation phase.

But let me recap first. Threads is a free app that you can download from the Apple or Google app stores. To set it up, 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 a short memo to post for public viewing. You can also embed photos, but the focus is on the text, just like on Twitter.

What’s the difference from Twitter that you noticed right away?

microphone Feels like Twitter, but in simple mode.

For one, Threads is governed algorithmically, just like Facebook or Instagram. That means when you come in, you see a bunch of different posts based on your interests, whether they were made five hours ago or five minutes ago. (Is it published, or threaded? Have we decided on the wording yet?)

This is different from the Twitter we’re used to, where the subtitles feature is in reverse chronological order. This means you’ll see every post from the people you follow in reverse order, making Twitter an integral part of breaking news and live events.

For Threads, I think algorithmic curation is intentional on Instagram. They say they want to make Threads “friendly” when people come in. It felt a bit dry to me, but I also didn’t get bombarded with hate speech and racist tirade, which I think is a big plus.

brian For me, the Meta interest-based algorithm is a major problem. This has filled my threads with a bunch of posts from accounts I don’t follow, mostly influencers and brands advertising their products. I rarely see posts from real friends.

To be fair, Twitter’s timeline isn’t great either. Quality is deteriorating due to changes affecting what people read on the site, including requiring an $8-a-month subscription to Twitter Blue to get your posts to appear on other people’s timelines.

Another big difference between Threads and Twitter: The character limit on Threads is 500 characters, while the free account on Twitter is 280 characters.

Is having more characters a good thing?

microphone I do not think so. Simplicity is the soul of wisdom, right? In my opinion, a tweet with a short content rather than a blog post in what should be a short message.

Twitter has already tested the paid Twitter Blue option, where people can post super-long tweets of 10,000 characters. I think that’s a departure from the original purpose of Twitter short messages. But maybe I’m just a grumpy person.

I’m curious: how are you doing on Threads, overlapping your Twitter self with your Instagram followers?

This was an unpleasant experience for me. My Insta presence is very different from my Twitter presence. On Insta, I usually post what I cooked that week or the latest concert I went to. Twitter is more of a space for me to write about work and the tech industry, while also posting occasional snippets of my personal life. Threads feels like a hybrid of both – at least for now.

brian This was tricky for me too, so I didn’t post much. Like many people, I turned Instagram into a private account a few 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 rethink what I share publicly. This is a trip.

microphone Totally at your disposal. I’ll still try, but I’m curious if you think this will be the next big thing? Especially considering you’re not as active on Twitter as I am.

brian I don’t bet on technology like I would bet on a horse. But based on my reporting on how the average person (who uses tech but isn’t addicted to it) interacts with the social network, they probably don’t post much on Threads.

In fact, Twitter is not a social network, and neither is Threads. Both are broadcasting platforms for big brands, celebrities, politicians and media to share messages with their followers.

This type of networking is not conducive to people actually socializing in a community. In social clubs, people gather into smaller groups around common interests. They’re not going to squeeze into a giant conference room and yell like we do on Twitter and now on Threads.

microphone Absolutely. I have a decent following on twitter who mostly know what I’m getting and understand when I’m joking. But I know all too well that when one of my tweets goes viral and spreads beyond the people who know me, I am 100% going to be misunderstood — and possibly even insulted. We call this “context collapse”.

brian Mehta knew this too. You reported a few years ago that Mark Zuckerberg said people were increasingly moving away from large social media platforms to smaller, more isolated networks. These include private Facebook groups and messaging apps.

microphone Shout out to the private Slack and Discord groups I’m in that only contain a handful of close friends.

brian It all makes sense. People have learned that sharing large amounts of personal information in the public domain is not a good idea.

Also, if I want to talk to you, why should I publicly @you instead of message you? Compared to Twitter, that’s probably the biggest thing Threads lacks — direct messaging — which makes Threads a poor product right now. But it’s only a matter of time before the feature is added, as it’s already part of Instagram.

microphone I do think there’s a performative element to talking in the public sphere, and my conversations with you take on a different tone and meaning — kind of like we’re speaking in front of an audience on stage. There are some interesting things about this. But it tends to get pretty uninteresting very quickly. As you point out, message passing helps circumvent this.

brian Text has also lost the battle when it comes to engaging with brands and influencers. The growing popularity of TikTok and Instagram’s Reels is proof that casual tech users, especially young adults, would rather watch videos of celebrities and influencers they follow than read short texts from them.

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 functionality improves, I might see myself eventually switching from Twitter to Threads, which could bring me more followers due to the sheer size of Instagram. (I am @bxchen discussion topicby the way. ) but like everyone else, I probably won’t spend much time hanging out there with friends.

And you?

microphone Right now I’m doing an inconvenient juggling act of trying to post different content to six different networks, and it’s not fun. But I think at least something will eventually go away and I can stop posting. At least, I hope so.

goodbye on… threadI guess?

brian You have to go back with me first, Mike.

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