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Meta Threads explained: Everything you need to know

Meta Threads had record user sign-ups in its first week but needs to sustain engagement to challenge Twitter.

Twitter may have finally met its match. Though many alternatives exist, Meta Threads offers the most competition.

Threads is a public text-sharing app in direct competition with Twitter. Many of its users migrated from Twitter to Threads, dissatisfied with Elon Musk's management of the platform. Some of the changes at Twitter include a daily read limit, capping the number of tweets a user can view; reinstatement of controversial accounts; and paid verification.

This migration from Twitter to Threads caused Twitter's traffic to tank, according to a tweet from Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter Executive Chairman and CTO Elon Musk -- two of the world's richest men -- have even teased a cage match to duke it out.

Meta Threads has become the most quickly downloaded app ever. ChatGPT previously held that title, with a million downloads in the first five days of its release. Threads had 30 million downloads only a day after its release on June 5, 2023. Just a week after its release, Threads racked up 100 million users.

Differences between Twitter and Threads

Meta Threads is a text extension of Instagram. Core features of Threads include the following:

  • Posts up to 500 characters long.
  • Video posts up to five minutes long, as well as links and photos.
  • Accessibility features, such as screen-reader support and AI alt text.
  • Access to Instagram's existing user safety controls, such as unfollowing, blocking, restricting and reporting profiles.
  • A feed with posts from followed accounts and new recommended content.

One feature that Meta has promised but hasn't included yet is support for ActivityPub, an open social networking profile established by the World Wide Web Consortium web standards group. This would make Threads interoperable with other social networks and platforms that support the protocol, like Mastodon and WordPress.

Threads has positioned itself as a more positive version of Twitter, with some descriptions calling it a Twitter clone.

However, there are some key differences between the two platforms, including the following:

  • Threads does not have a direct message function.
  • Threads users cannot edit a post once published.
  • Threads does not let users customize alt text.
  • Threads does not have a trending topics section.
  • Threads does not show ads.

These missing features could be added in the future as the application continues to grow.

In July 2023, Threads added more features in response to user feedback.

For example, Threads added a “Your Likes” page that shows the pages a user has liked. Threads also added a “Following” tab, which shows posts from accounts that users follow in chronological order. Before, users could only see recommended posts on a “For You” page and not in chronological order.  

In addition, Threads added a follow button, a new way to approve followers for private accounts, new notification filters in the Activity tab and post translations. The platform also added topic tags, which serve the same purpose that hashtags do on Twitter.

Why did Threads gain such a large user base so quickly?

Threads had overnight success because it is entwined with Instagram. Instagram already has a large user base, and Meta made it easy for Instagram users to sign up for and link a Threads account in just a few clicks.

The downward trajectory of Twitter also helped Meta promote Threads as a more positive alternative. Between product changes that worsened the Twitter experience for many, lawsuits against the company and layoffs that made Twitter engineers available to competing platforms, there was plenty kindling to fuel Threads' success.

Other Twitter competitors

Threads isn't Twitter's only competition. Other Twitter alternatives include the following:

  • Bluesky.
  • Clubhouse.
  • Cohost.
  • CounterSocial.
  • Discord.
  • Mastodon.
  • Spill.
  • T2.
  • Tumblr.
  • WT.Social.

Is it possible to delete a Threads account?

It is possible to delete a Threads account at any time but only if the user's Instagram account is also deleted. Threads is looking for a way to mitigate this and make the two accounts separate.

Regulatory concerns

Threads raises some antitrust concerns due to Meta's dominance in the social media space. From a regulatory perspective, it is positive that Meta is challenging another social heavyweight. However, if Threads becomes the long-term favorite in the microblogging space, it would add to Meta's sprawling web of social platforms, which includes Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp.

The Federal Trade Commission also penalizes firms that make it difficult to opt out of a given service. This could be a problem for Meta if it doesn't separate the Threads and Instagram account deletion process.

Could Threads replace Twitter?

Threads' early success raises the question of whether it will fully eclipse Twitter. Other apps have gotten early spikes of attention and have since died off. Two examples are BeReal and Clubhouse.

It's unlikely that Threads would replace Twitter or put it out of business entirely. But it could knock Twitter out of its current position as the public commons of the internet, where many people get news and continuously engage with the platform.

To succeed, Threads needs to keep users engaged beyond the initial hype. The prospects for doing this seem promising, as the platform already has several big names, including politicians Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kevin McCarthy, as well as talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Threads also plans to add more features in the future.

In late 2023, Threads expanded access to users in the European Union. This action was delayed initially because Meta wanted ensure it was compliant with regional regulatory requirements. The expanded access gave Twitter users in that region an alternative.

What is the fediverse?

The fediverse -- a portmanteau of federated and universe -- is a network of interconnected servers used to host sperate but interoperable internet platforms. Meta wants to use the ActivityPub protocol to create a fediverse of social platforms that integrate with one another. This decentralized approach would, in theory, keep users from being locked into any one platform.

For example, a Threads user and Mastodon user would be able to interact with one another as though they were on the same platform. If a user is kicked off or chooses not to use one platform anymore, they could take their following to another.

This raises some data privacy concerns as Threads users entering the fediverse would be giving Meta permission to deliver user information to third-party services not controlled by Meta.

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