By John Gruber
Turn your developer product into a movement. Get your DX Checkup.
Facebook’s much-anticipated Twitter rival Threads — branded “an Instagram app” — is out. Some initial thoughts and observations:
The iOS app only supports an iPhone layout. I suppose I should not find this surprising, given that 13 years after launching, Instagram’s iOS app still doesn’t support the iPad natively, but somehow I do find this surprising. What a fucking mystery for the ages it is that Instagram won’t make iPad apps.
They’re going with the “www” prefix on the web, just like Instagram. That feels archaic to me.
The website is view-only. You can’t log in, post, or reply. No indication whether this is temporary or by design.
URLs are similar to Instagram’s: domain name + “/t/” + unique post ID. (Where Threads uses a “/t/” (for threads), Instagram uses a “/p/” (for post, I presume.) For example:
https://www.threads.net/t/CuRtcYTNY3J/. Much better would be a URL format that includes the username of the poster, so you can tell who posted it just by looking at the URL. Example URLs that show attribution:
Signing in was incredibly easy using my existing Instagram credentials, which were already on my phone because I have Instagram installed. I didn’t even need to re-enter my password. Same username, same avatar, and I opted in to following the exact same accounts on Threads that I follow on Instagram.
The timeline is algorithmic — it shows you threads both from people you follow and from people you don’t. Just after Threads went live to the public, my timeline was almost entirely from accounts I don’t follow, seemingly users who’ve been testing Threads while it was in beta. As I type this sentence a few hours later, however, my timeline is mostly from people I follow, and thus much more enjoyable. But as yet, there’s no way to filter your timeline to only show threads from accounts you’ve chosen to follow.
You can search for accounts, but there’s no content search (yet?).
One feature Threads has launched with, though, are quote posts (retweets in Twitter parlance). Bluesky has them too. Quote posts are useful, fun, and central to the way many people use Twitter. And Mastodon doesn’t have them — not by omission, but by design. As I’ve quipped, Bluesky feels like a new service for people who liked what Twitter used to be. Threads feels like that too. Mastodon feels like a service for people who hated Twitter, and nothing exemplifies that more than its lack of quote posting.
Posts are limited to 500 characters, which I think is the upper bound for a Twitter-like service.
No word about an API yet. I’m not suggesting that Threads might offer an API to enable third-party clients — no way Facebook would do that — but there ought to be a programmatic interface for bots and such if they want to eclipse Twitter. (Which Zuckerberg is already stating as a goal.)
Over 5 million people signed up for Threads in the first 4 hours after launch. (There are about 1.2 million active Mastodon users.)
No ads yet. If Threads is successful, surely there will be ads. But in the meantime, it makes for a much better experience than Twitter, where the ads are frequent, large, and scammy. (And they soon might start playing sound.)
The site/app seems a bit slow/flaky at the moment, but overall is holding up, and still seems faster than Mastodon.
Threads is available in over 100 countries, but not yet in the E.U., thanks to their draconian and confusing Digital Markets Act. Rather than forcing U.S. and Asian companies to comply with their regulations, the E.U. seems more likely to be isolating its citizens from the broader world.
ActivityPub federation isn’t supported yet but is forthcoming. Instagram chief Adam Mosseri posted:
We’re committed to building support for ActivityPub, the protocol behind Mastodon, into this app. We weren’t able to finish it for launch given a number of complications that come along with a decentralized network, but it’s coming.
If you’re wondering why this matters, here’s a reason: you may one day end up leaving Threads, or, hopefully not, end up de-platformed. If that ever happens, you should be able to take your audience with you to another server. Being open can enable that.
The overall vibe of Threads is probably not for me. It’s not frantic, but it is busy, and very pop-culture-y. If you’re the sort of person who wants a quiet timeline comprised only of posts from carefully curated accounts, Threads is not for you, and probably never will be. But the sort of people who like Twitter’s “For You” feed and trending topics in the sidebar might find Threads more fun.
So I’m bullish on Threads’s chances for long-term success:
I even like the name “Threads” — it’s short, easy to spell, memorable, makes for a clever icon/logo, and even starts with a “T”, reminding people of Twitter. The word tweet has been a nice thing for Twitter to have stumbled onto. (They didn’t coin it; Twitterrific did.) Tweet works both as a noun and verb and everyone in the world knows what it means, whether they use Twitter or not. I don’t think thread is going to take off as a verb for Threads, but it’s a great noun for posts, and it reinforces the notion that you’re supposed to engage with posts by replying.
Casey Newton has an interview with Mosseri at Platformer. Regarding the E.U., Mosseri said:
The more pressing concern at the moment is to launch Threads in all the countries where Meta wants to. It won’t be available in the European Union to launch as Meta works to ensure that Threads complies with the EU’s new data privacy regulations.
“That’s just going to take a while, unfortunately — and I’m particularly frustrated about this point, because I’ve been living outside of the US for a year now,” said Mosseri, who has been working from London. “I’ve been on a total kick with my teams about stop launching things in only a couple countries, and not in other countries. … But in this case, it was either we wait on the EU, or delay the launch by many, many, many months. And I was worried that our window would close, because timing is important.”
Regarding the opportunity for Threads, as Twitter self destructs, Newton writes:
When the competition is an app where “cisgender” is considered a slur, Threads has an easy time standing out as an oasis of calm and civility.
Mosseri also granted an interview to Alex Heath at The Verge, where he had a thoughtful answer to the question of why Threads is a standalone app:
It was a hugely contentious debate internally. You could be in feed. You could be a separate tab. You could be a separate app. The challenge with text posts in feed is that the post and comment model just fundamentally does not support public discourse as well as the model that Twitter pioneered with tweets and replies. Treating replies as equal as opposed to subordinate somehow just allows for a very different and much more broad range of public conversations. People do post text to Instagram all the time, even though we don’t support it first class, and we’re experimenting with that, too. That’s great, but I think it solves a much smaller use case than public discourse more broadly.
Then there’s a separate app versus separate tab. Separate tab is tough. There’s only so much stuff you can shove in the app. It’s already feeling too complicated. We’re trying to actually simplify right now, and so it’s certainly working against that. And generally, when you build a separate tab, you find you want to push all that distribution through a feed invariably in order to bootstrap it. You kind of end up right back in that first problem.
A separate app is way less likely to succeed because you have to bootstrap a user base from very little or from nothing. But if you do it, if you succeed, the upside is so much more significant.