When we — Brian X. Chen and Mike Isaac, both longtime technology journalists — were tasked last week by our editor to review Threads, Meta’s new social network, it was like a blast from the past.
We’ve both been writing about social networks for over a decade. In the last half-dozen of those years, the social media landscape was largely static—with the exception of the rise of the short-video app TikTok—dominated by Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook.
The arrival of Threads, which evolved from Instagram and is intended to be a prime place for public, real-time conversations, shakes up that scene. While the new app could become all the rage, it could also pose a powerful threat to Twitter, which has held its crown as a conversation center for more than a decade.
But how many of us will hang out on Threads? We wondered how we would go about it since one of us – Brian – is one casual Twitter userand the other – Mike – is an old Twitter addict, which may affect our experience with Meta’s new app. Here’s what we found out about the pros and cons of Threads and whether it could become a part of your life.
BRIAN Hello Mike! It’s been a while since we did a joint review. Years ago, we dug into the new PlayStation and Xbox releases. And now we’re back together – why again?
MIKE Yes, we’re back, this time to check out the hottest social app of the moment, Threads, made by Meta. After playing with it for a few days, I’m starting to wonder if I can kick my Twitter addiction by replacing it with a “friendlier” social network created by Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Meta.
So far I’m enjoying it. But it definitely feels like a stripped down version of Twitter. No hashtags, heavy on the influencers – and worst of all, many of the people in my replies don’t seem to get my jokes, which usually do well on Twitter.
Brian, I’m afraid all the people coming from Instagram to Threads just don’t know how to post.
BRIAN Well, that’s the interesting thing. Threads is a Twitter clone, but Meta introduces the concept to never-tweeters who have been on Instagram. So there will be a difficult phase of acclimatization.
But let me back up for a second. Threads is a free app that you download from the Apple or Google app store. To set it up, connect it to your Instagram account. Threads then invites you to follow all your friends on Instagram.
From there, it shows a timeline of posts and lets you compose short memos that can be published to the public. You can also embed photos, but the focus is on text, just like Twitter.
What are the differences with Twitter that you immediately noticed?
MIKE It feels like Twitter, but in easy mode.
First, Threads is algorithmically curated, just like Facebook or Instagram. That means when you enter, you’ll see a bunch of different posts based on your interests, whether they were posted five hours ago or five minutes ago. (Is it posted, or is it threaded? Have we decided on the verbiage yet?)
That’s a departure from what we’re used to from Twitter, where the bounding box feature is the reverse chronological timeline. That means you see every post from people you follow in reverse order, which made Twitter indispensable for breaking news and live events.
With Threads, I think the algorithmic curation is intentional on Instagram’s part. They’ve said they want to make Threads “friendly” when people come in. It feels a bit sterile to me, but I also don’t get bombarded with hate speech and racist rants, which I consider a huge plus.
BRIAN For me, Meta’s interest-based algorithm is a big letdown. It’s caused my Threads to feed a pile of posts from accounts I don’t follow, mostly influencers and brands promoting their products. I see very few messages from my real friends.
To be fair, Twitter’s timeline isn’t great either. Quality is declining due to changes affecting what people read on the site, including the requirement to pay $8 per month for a Twitter Blue subscription to have your posts appear on other people’s timelines.
Another major difference between Threads and Twitter: the character limit on Threads is 500 characters, while on Twitter it is 280 characters for free accounts.
Are more characters a good thing?
MIKE I do not think so. Conciseness is the soul of humor, right? A stunner of a tweet comes in short form in my opinion and doesn’t write a blog entry in what should be a short post.
Twitter has been testing this paid Twitter Blue option, which allows people to post insanely long tweets of 10,000 characters. I feel like that is moving away from the original point of Twitter’s short messages. But maybe I’m just a curmudgeon.
I’m curious: what was it like for you on Threads, overlapping your Twitter self with your followers on Instagram?
It has been a shocking experience for me. I am very different on my Insta than on Twitter. On Insta I usually post things I cooked that week or the last concert I attended. Twitter is more my space to write about work and the tech industry, while occasionally posting snippets from my personal life. Threads feels like a hybrid of both – at least for now.
BRIAN It was also difficult for me, so I didn’t post much. Like many people, I turned my Instagram into a private account years ago because I didn’t want the public to see pictures of my family. It became a friends-only network.
With Threads, I now have to rethink what I would share publicly. It’s a journey.
MIKE I totally hear you. I’m still going to try, but I’m curious if you think this is going to be the next big thing? Especially considering that you are less active on Twitter than I am.
BRIAN I don’t bet on technical products as if they were horses. But based on my coverage of how everyday people — who use technology but aren’t obsessed with it — interact with social networks, they probably won’t be posting much on Threads.
The truth is that Twitter is not a social network, and neither is Threads. Both are broadcasting platforms for major brands, celebrities, politicians and media outlets to share information with their followers.
This type of network is not conducive to the way people actually socialize in communities. In social clubs, people come together in smaller groups around shared interests. They don’t crowd into a huge conference room and shout like we do on Twitter and now Threads.
MIKE Absolute. I have a decent Twitter following that usually knows what it’s going to get from me and understands when I’m joking. But I’m well aware that when a tweet of mine goes viral and beyond the sphere of people who know me, I’m going to be 100 percent misinterpreted — and probably offended. We call that “context collapse.”
BRIAN Meta knows this too. You reported a few years ago that Mark Zuckerberg said that people were moving away from the big social media platform to smaller, more isolated networks. Those included private Facebook groups and messaging apps.
MIKE Shout out to the private Slack and Discord groups I’m in that only contain a handful of close friends.
BRIAN And that all makes sense. People have learned that it is not a good idea to share a lot of personal information in the public sphere.
And if I want to talk to you, why should I publicly @ you instead of texting you? That’s probably the biggest thing Threads lacks compared to Twitter – direct messaging – which makes Threads an inferior product at this point. But it’s only a matter of time before that gets added, since that feature is already part of Instagram.
MIKE I think there’s a sort of performative element to talking in the public sphere, where my conversations with you take on a different tone and meaning – a bit like we’re talking on stage in front of an audience. There’s something nice about that. But it can often get very unpleasant very quickly. Messaging, as you point out, helps get around that.
BRIAN Text has already lost the battle for addressing brands and influencers. The growing popularity of TikTok and Instagram’s Reels is proof that casual tech users, especially young people, would rather see videos of the celebrities and influencers they follow than read their bite-sized text.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to compare Twitter and Threads since Threads is part of Instagram, which is much bigger than Twitter. If the features improve, I could eventually see myself switching to Twitter’s Threads due to Instagram’s sheer size, which could earn me more followers. (I’m @bxchen on Threads, by the way.) But like others, I probably won’t be spending much time with friends there.
MIKE Right now I’m in the awkward juggling act of posting different things on six different networks, and it’s not exactly fun. But I guess eventually something will die and I can stop putting out the messages. At least I hope so.
See you on… Discussions, I guess?
BRIAN You have to follow me first, Mike.