After months of speculation and secrecy, Mark Zuckerberg’s long-rumoured competitor app to Twitter is here.
The new app, Threads, was unveiled Wednesday to complement Instagram, the popular photo-sharing network that Mr. Zuckerberg’s company, Meta, bought more than a decade ago. If Instagram executives have their way, Threads will also replace rival Twitter, with some techies calling it a “Twitter killer.”
The Threads rollout intensifies the rivalry between Mr. Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, who bought Twitter last year. Mr. Musk has changed the Twitter experience by tinkering with the algorithm and other features, and recently imposed temporary limits on the number of tweets people could read when using the app, sparking outrage.
Many tech companies have tried to capitalize on the turmoil on Twitter in recent months. But Threads has an edge, backed by Meta’s deep pockets and Instagram’s massive user base of over two billion monthly active users around the world.
In a post to his Threads account on Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg said, “I think there should be a public conversation app with over 1 billion people on it. Twitter has had a chance to do this, but it hasn’t done it right. Hopefully we will.”
Here’s what you need to know about Threads.
What is Threads and how does it work?
Built by Instagram, Threads is positioned as an app that allows people to have real-time public conversations with each other. Threads also helps boost Instagram, a big app in the Meta family of products.
“The idea is to hopefully build an open, friendly space for communities,” Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said in an interview.
Instagram has closely tied Threads to itself. Those who want to sign up for the new app will need to have an Instagram account for now. A user’s Instagram handle must also be their Threads username.
And people can import the list of those they follow on Instagram directly to Threads if they want to. Instagram’s verified users will also be verified in the new app. Users can make their Threads account private or public.
How is Threads similar to or different from Twitter?
Threads seems almost identical to Twitter in many ways. Users can mainly post text-based posts in a scrolling feed, where people who follow them and those they follow can comment. People can also post photos or videos in the app.
But Threads is also different from Twitter. It does not currently support direct messaging, a feature that Twitter offers. Instagram said it can add features to Threads if new users request it.
How did Instagram come up with Threads?
Instagram has made a concerted effort in recent years to simplify its app, Mr Mosseri said. As part of that effort, he said, Threads was turned into a separate app. That way Instagram wouldn’t get too cluttered by trying to make public conversations work within the existing app.
The choice to create a new app was also hard to resist, added Mr. Mosseri, especially at a tumultuous time in the social media landscape.
“There was an opportunity or demand for more people to play in public spaces,” he said, referring to the changes around Twitter under Mr. Musk. Mr Mosseri added that the opportunity to challenge Twitter came about “not just because of ownership, but also because of product changes and decisions” Mr Musk and others have made about how the social platform operates.
Instagram began its bid to conquer Twitter late last year, with dozens of engineers, product managers, and designers pitching ideas about what a rival app might look like. Among the ideas Meta’s employees talked about at the time was a more extensive rollout of a feature called Instagram Notes, where people can share short posts on the site, and a text-centric app that uses Instagram’s technology.
Ultimately, Mr. Mosseri said, he and other executives decided they had to “put a bet” on the space and leaned into building what became Threads.
How does Threads work with other apps?
Instagram’s goal is to eventually get Threads to work across multiple apps in what it’s calling the Fediverse, which is short for a federated universe of services that share communication protocols. Other apps like Mastodon, another social network, also work this way.
This may sound like a lot of technical speak. Essentially, what it means is 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 every app.
For example, if a creator builds a significant following on Threads, they could ostensibly take those followers to other platforms built on the same technology. That would make it less risky for creators and could free them from feeling “stuck” on one platform, Mr Mosseri said.
Did Instagram clone other apps?
Mr. Zuckerberg’s Meta, who also owns Facebook and WhatsApp, has a long history of trying to weed out social media rivals, in part by copying their functions. Mr. Zuckerberg is wildly competitive and has long wanted to own a product that accomplishes what Twitter does.
That strategy does not always guarantee success. Facebook’s early attempts to clone the short-lived messaging app Snapchat, for example, didn’t initially get much attention.
Still, Meta has continued to imitate rivals. In 2020, Meta released a TikTok copycat called Reels, which focuses on short videos and has been widely used ever since.
Where is Threads available?
Threads will be available to download for free on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store in the United States and about 100 other countries starting Wednesday. It has plans to expand further.
But Meta said Threads won’t initially be available in the European Union, one of the company’s largest markets. A new EU law called the Digital Markets Act will take effect in the coming months, restricting how the biggest tech companies share data between services. Meta said it was waiting for more details on the law’s implementation before introducing Threads to the 27 country bloc.
Adam Satariano reporting contributed.