A new name arrives in the social network landscape today, but it has an air of familiarity that has given it an instant boost.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has built a standalone messaging app called Threads, that leverages the existing Instagram community. In the first seven hours of it being available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, it already had 10-million users.
Threads allows users to share photos, videos, and status updates with a select group of people. It includes features that have become familiar in messaging, like disappearing messages, read receipts, and a Status feature that allows users to share their current location, mood, or activity with their friends.
In other words, WhatsApp meets Twitter. But it has an added bonus: one doesn’t have to start one’s community from scratch. Most significantly, it allows one to follow the same accounts being followed on Instagram, at the click of a button. And you keep your Instagram username.
Threads is a companion app to Instagram, so users can use it to share content that they don’t want to appear on their main Instagram feed. For example, they could use Threads to share photos and videos from their daily life that they don’t want to share with a wide audience.
The slogan that goes with the app in the Apple App Store is simple: “Say more with Threads — Instagram’s text-based conversation app”. The app itself is labelled “Threads, an Instagram app”, making it clear that it is a spin-off from the image-sharing platform rather than from the Facebook network.
The description that goes with it is a little more, let’s say, complicated?
“Threads is where communities come together to discuss everything from the topics you care about today to what’ll be trending tomorrow. Whatever it is you’re interested in, you can follow and connect directly with your favorite creators and others who love the same things…”
Or, of course, who hate the same things. Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, has tried to make a virtue out of the platform’s worst spirit, namely the urge to attack, vilify, threaten and otherwise create a toxic mix of hatred and misinformation. Meta is not above such championing of hostility, given that it helps drive traffic. The Facebook algorithms that turned public discourse into a quagmire of loathing over the past decade are still alive, and will no doubt influence the threads of Threads.
That said, it cannot be worse than Twitter. Watching Elon Musk’s bizarre attempts to monetise the platform has been like being part of a train wreck in very slow motion. This week’s announcement that users would be limited to a small amount of tweets they can view, unless they pay for a blue tick that “verifies” them, was the perfect boost for Threads as it prepared to go live.
It has propelled Threads from the status of Twitter wannabe to viable Twitter alternative. Among its unstated benefits are that it connects users with the community where they are already likely to feel safe, it does not foist the feed of an overlord on them, as is the case with Elon Musk on Twitter, and it tends to be a celebratory environment.
However, it is also potentially a privacy disaster waiting to happen. Among other features, Threads shows users who is online and available to chat. It also sends users notifications when their friends send them messages – or view their status.
Thanks to the App Store’s emphasis on privacy disclosures by app developers, we know that “the following data may be collected and linked to your identity”:
- Health & Fitness
- Financial Info
- Contact Info
- User Content
- Search History
- Browsing History
- Usage Data
- Sensitive Info
- Other Data
In other words, enter at your own risk.
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Threads on @art2gee