APR 14, 2024

Threads: Twitter’s biggest competition yet?

For a while now — basically since Elon Musk’s rather controversial buyout of Twitter — there’s been a lot of noise about which social media platform might be the “next Twitter”. Bluesky, run by Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s ex-CEO, was waiting in the wings, while Mastodon has been touted by many as a truly “open” social media platform, but unless you’re at least a little technically adept, it can be hard to wrap your head around.

Enter Threads, the latest contender to the Twitter throne. Backed by Meta — the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and more — it’s already racked up more than 100 million users in a very short space of time, suggesting it might actually have the traction to overtake Twitter rather rapidly.

What is Threads?

Threads is a mobile app with a very similar interface to the classic Twitter app. You get a single feed of continuously updated, mostly text-based material to read, with each posting supporting up to 500 characters, including links, photos and videos of no more than five minutes duration.

Still, text is the primary driver of Threads; meta has stated that it still views Instagram as its primary photo sharing platform, so it’s not looking to replace it any time soon.

So it’s just Twitter, but by the Facebook company?

Sort of. The experience of using Threads does feel very similar to the classic way that Twitter operated, so if you’re familiar with Twitter, you’d be able to get to posting and interacting in very rapid fashion.

However, it’s still very much early days for Threads. Some of its functionality is a little on the simple side. As an example, if you make a post on Instagram or Facebook and realise there’s an error in it, you have the option to edit it. That’s not true for Threads just yet; you’d have to delete the post and rewrite it entirely.

Another big difference here is that Threads is exclusively a mobile app; there’s no web-based interface for Threads users to post anything or view their post feed. The Threads feed isn’t chronologically based, and there’s no option — at least for now — to get a feed that’s just for the accounts you follow.

Meta says that the Threads feed is based on those you choose to follow as well as an algorithmically derived feed from across the Threads network, which means you may see many posts from people you don’t follow. The idea here is that — if the algorithm that Threads is using has any accuracy — is that it should unearth content of interest to you, and perhaps find new accounts you may want to follow.

There’s also no support for hashtags, direct messages or embedding Threads posts into other web documents. Those features may come with time, as may advertising.

For now, Threads is an ad-free experience, although there’s little doubt that Meta will be carefully watching usage and data patterns in Threads as part of its overall data monitoring businesses for its other ad-serving platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

How can I get a Threads account?

Right now — and it seems for the foreseeable future — all Threads accounts are based on having an existing Instagram account to link to it. If you want to set up a Threads account, you do so by downloading the free Threads app for iOS (iPhones) or Android (Samsung, Google, Motorola — basically any non-Apple smartphone) and then linking it to your Instagram account.

One of the current limitations at the time of writing to this approach is that if you’ve got more than one Instagram account, you can’t have them both running Threads on the same smartphone. Meta allows this kind of account switching for Facebook and Instagram already, so hopefully that’ll be just a matter of time for those of us with personal, business and hobby accounts.

Will Threads kill Twitter?

That’s a tough one to answer; Twitter still has a considerable lead in terms of overall audience, but recent controversies around the platform and issues with its stability have seen plenty of users looking for a cleaner and simpler experience. Threads might be that platform — or it could just be another pretender to the Twitter throne.

There’s certainly little love lost between Meta head honcho Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Elon Musk, with Musk particularly perturbed about Meta’s move into Twitter’s social media space. So much so — and I promise I’m not making this up — that Musk challenged Zuckerberg to a cage fight to settle the matter.

That’s quite a different approach for tech billionaires to take; usually these kinds of disputes are settled over many years via lawyers rather than clenched fists. Then again, Musk has also looked to go down this route, accusing Meta of hiring ex-Twitter employees and infringing on Twitter’s trade secrets and intellectual property. Maybe the cage match might be simpler after all.

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Alex Kidman
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more.