Ever since social media became a thing, Twitter has always stood out as a completely different take on interacting with your friends and acquaintances. Instead of writing (somewhat) long-form content and sharing it mostly with your select group of recipients, the main idea of Twitter is to write out your spur-of-the-moment thoughts and share them with the world. Kind of like a bird atop a tree, spreading its message with its kinship.
For years, all was well. Then one day, Elon Musk took over and introduced a whole bunch of eyebrow-raising changes, including rebranding Twitter to X and forcing visitors to have an account to view the platform’s content, along with his rather peculiar workplace culture. To the opinion of many, Twitter seems to have headed for a swift downfall, and when a throne appears to be vacant, another suitor is bound to rise up in an effort to overtake it.
In the vast open space of social media, that suitor turned out to be Zuckerberg’s Threads. According to his claims, the aim was to create an open and public space for conversation. Even so, taking its fair share of inspiration from Twitter can hardly be denied, and whether the platform has succeeded in materializing its vision can be debated as well. Still, people were curious and Threads swiftly managed to acquire 100 million users shortly after its launch, a rapid growth trend that overshadowed even ChatGPT itself as far as the numbers go.
But suddenly, the fad was over and its user base had diminished to less than 70% of its peak. But what happened? Were its users disappointed in what the platform had to offer or was it simply a case of realizing that Twitter’s reign might not have yet come to an end? In today’s post, we’re going to take a look at some of the key facts and explore the reasons why the copycat ultimately failed to dethrone the original.
Threads’ algorithm leaves a lot to be desired
At first glance, Threads is just another Twitter copy, but if we were to look at its algorithm just like we dismantled Facebook’s algorithm, there are numerous notable differences.
Most notably, Threads doesn’t give you a lot of freedom for customizing your feeds. Imagine having content posted by random people and celebrities appear in your feed, most of which probably doesn’t even align with your interests.
This is one of the main gripes people have had with Threads, and the more you use it, the more annoying the issue gets. Sure, posts from people you follow also appear in the mix, but why would you want it to be a mix in the first place? It simply doesn’t make any sense.
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There’s less content on Threads
Let’s examine what drives us to spend time on social media in the first place. It’s interacting with people, sure, but consuming content comes right after.
As you can imagine, Threads, being a relative newcomer to the scene, simply hasn’t had the time to accumulate the volume of content that’s already present on Twitter. Hence, there is less to consume and less of a reason to stick around. Sure, changing one’s virtual environment can be fun in the initial stages, but after the novelty wears off, so does the magic.
The data related to the consumption of content appears to be in line with the notion. Originally, an average Threads user was spending 19 minutes per session, which quickly fell down to 10, and now 5 minutes. This suggests that the interest was there initially, but it failed to sustain in the long run.
In its current state, Threads' algorithm is too much of an open, unwritten journal.
Yes, Threads allows more characters per post, but...
Twitter’s character limit per post stands at 280, while the one of Threads limits your posts to 500 characters in length. The idea was pursuing a middle ground between Twitter’s short blurbs and typical long-form content you see on other social media platforms like Facebook.
In other words, Threads wanted to model its post structure after Twitter’s recipe, but added a tiny bit more freedom for users to express their thoughts without artificial limitations. It’s kind of like tablets are the middle ground between smartphones and laptops in terms of the screen real estate you get to use.
However, it turns out that the extreme ends of the spectrum are the preferred way to go in this case. This, of course, is nothing more than a wild theory, but take a look at the numbers presented by Statcounter:
As of 2023, mobiles have a 54.46% market share, compared to desktop computers at 43.67%, all while tablets get a measly 1.88%. In other words, when we use a computer or smart device, we either want the complete freedom and functionality of a fully-fledged computer or the minimalism and portability of a smartphone.
Tablets are nice in theory, but… where do they fit into our daily lives in the grand scheme of things? Let’s put that in the context of Threads. It tries to be both, but ends up being neither.
In the world of social media, Threads is what tablets are in IT.
Twitter is standalone, but Threads is part of Instagram
Another important point that needs to be emphasized is that Twitter is its own standalone platform, whereas Threads is part of Instagram.
Why does it matter? For starters, it’s about branding. The very nature of Twitter’s independence as a platform allows it to be marketed in various different ways, whereas Threads will, at least in its current form, remain a mere extension of Instagram’s core offerings.
Besides, many people find it quite a nuisance for Threads requiring them to have an Instagram account just to be allowed to use it. It might come as a surprise, but not everyone has an Instagrammable personality or wants to have an Instagram account for that matter.
Even though no one forces you to populate it with images, the requirement itself acts as another possible deterrent that might make someone reconsider signing up for Threads.
Standalone apps have it easier when it comes to branding.
Threads is only accessible via an app
Nowadays, virtually every other social media platform is accessible through the web as well as through a dedicated app, giving its users plenty of flexibility as to how they want to consume its content and interact with other users. Threads, on the other hand, fails to deliver in this fundamental regard, requiring you to download a dedicated app where its content is exclusively available.
First of all, this is a major convenience issue. After all, littering your phone with countless apps is something that an increasing number of users are choosing to shy away from, realizing it serves nothing but to slow down their device and clutter it with an endless barrage of notifications. An app or two changes very little in this regard of course, but before you know it, there could be hundreds of apps on your phone you’re wondering why you’ve installed in the first place.
The second major implication of this issue is discoverability. If the platform’s makers deliberately decide to lock its content behind an additional obstacle like an app, it makes it less likely that other potential users will ever discover it. Imagine how many times you’ve randomly stumbled upon a Twitter post or profile while browsing the web.
By the nature of its design, such a thing simply cannot happen with Threads. Which is a shame and it hardly serves anyone.
UPDATE: on the 24th of August 2023, Threads came out with an announcement that a web app is in the making. However, will that turn out to be too little, too late?
Make your content undiscoverable by Google, and you'll have a harder time with getting itnoticed.
Bots and spammers are running amok
Remember the old days of Twitter? Compared to security measures it has in place nowadays, it was way easier to spam the platform back then. You could, for example, unleash hundreds if not thousands of automated accounts designed for one purpose – to aggressively promote your offerings in an unsolicited manner.
Obviously, this is bad for the overall user experience, so Twitter eventually put several anti-spam measures in place such as monitoring accounts for suspicious activity, requiring a phone number verification to lift the restraints, and the list goes on.
Threads, being in the early stages of deployment still, has some catching up to do in the security and anti-spam department. Granted, this is likely not the developers’ priority at the time being, which is fair enough. But as it stands right now, it’s a giant free-for-all out there right now.
Beware of the bot army!
Big brother is watching (your personal information)
- Health information
- Financial information
- Browsing habits
- Search history
What could Threads possibly be doing with such information? The possibilities are endless, but none of them are likely to be in their users’ best interest. Now, given that the service itself is free to use, how is it being monetized and what’s the product that’s being sold? It could very well be that the product is ‘you’.
Personal information? Sure, Big Brother (Threads) wants some of that.
What most of us love about the internet is that most of its users are in favor of free speech, viewing it as one of their key values and a fundamental human right. With that being said, platforms that allow the proliferation of user-generated content may choose not to allow certain types of content and that’s up to their discretion.
Even in its early days, Threads has already found itself in the crossfire of free speech activists who are accusing it of censorship. One such example is the gender ideology discussions that got flagged as ‘false information’. Now whether you hold a binary or non-binary view on the question of gender is not a point of this discussion, nor are we necessarily siding with either group – what matters is how Threads decided to go about the issue. Most agree it could have been handled better.
The fact of the matter is, Threads can decide your content is inappropriate and remove it at their discretion. For instance, you could wake up one day to this lovely little notice that states your content has been flagged as ‘hate speech’, for instance, and has thus been removed, despite not really having anything to do with the alleged classification:
Another instance of censorship by Threads is introducing extra confirmation prompts when a user tries to follow an account that has been flagged for spreading false information. One of the most infamous examples of this was trying to follow the account of Trump Jr. However, there were countless others as well.
Its features seem to be overlapping with Instagram’s
As blatant as Threads may be about copying its features from Twitter, that’s not where it ends. On top of that, you’ll notice that many of its features strike a funny resemblance with the ones you can find on Instagram. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it does come across as uninspired and perhaps a bit redundant.
So then, the question becomes… why install a whole separate app to accomplish something that Instagram allows you to do without giving you the hassle? As a general rule of thumb, if you’re going to enforce a standalone app policy without providing an alternative that’s accessible through typical means (such as the web), at least make sure it has something fresh and unique to offer, something that’s worth jumping through the hoops for.
Did Threads’ marketing fall short?
For a company with this kind of financial means at its disposal, more could have been done to promote Threads. In comparison, more effort and resources have been directed towards marketing Instagram, its parent platform.
With that being said, even with a low-key launch, Threads managed to accumulate a gigantic user base at the start. The problem is, it ultimately failed to sustain it. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s probably to never rest on your laurels!
Despite hitting a homerun in the beginning, Threads' active user counts are not in the slightest where they used to be.
With that, we’ve gone over some of the most likely reasons why Threads failed in its attempt to dethrone Twitter. Perhaps one of these reasons have contributed more than the rest or perhaps it’s a combination of multiple factors, but one thing is for certain – Threads, despite its explosive initial growth, now only has a fraction of its once-active user-base.
Twitter, although many have tried to take its place in the past, still reigns supreme. One could argue that the social media network is worse off under Musk in numerous regards, but for now, it appears that it’s still going strong… at least strong enough to stand on its own two feet.