Last night, by the time I called it quits and went to bed Threads, Meta’s new social network, had hit 2 million users in 2 hours. As I write this, Meta’s Adam Mosseri says the count has now surpassed 10 million in 7 hours, which exceeds Mastodon’s user base.
Currently, Threads is a pretty barebones 1.0 experience that was undoubtedly released this week to capitalize on Twitter’s latest troubles. The app is also buggy. I’ve seen posts fail to load, glitchy interactions, and other bugs, but despite the load, the new service has held up under the influx of users, which is impressive, although not entirely surprising given Meta’s scale.
One rumored feature that stirred up strong feelings in the Mastodon community and is missing from Threads is support for ActivityPub, the protocol underlying Mastodon and other federated services. Support for ActivityPub has since been confirmed by Mosseri, who said on Threads yesterday:
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.
It remains to be seen if Meta will follow through with its ActivityPub plans, and how it will affect the broader universe of federated services is unknown. However, if implemented, ActivityPub support should allow Mastodon users to follow people on Threads without having a Threads account and vice versa.
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about apps, I love the interview Alex Heath of The Verge did with Mosseri, in which he explains why Threads is a separate app:
[Alex Heath]: Why do it as a standalone app off of Instagram?
[Mosseri]: 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.
Mosseri’s answer really resonated with me. Instagram has shoved a lot of features into every nook and cranny of its app, which is understandable. It’s a popular app, and making something a feature instead of a standalone app is a chance to bootstrap the feature on the coattails of the existing app. The downside, though, is exactly as Mosseri explains. Shaping a service to fit into an existing app risks undermining the new service and potentially harming the existing one.
For Threads, I think Meta made the right call by building a separate app, but it still needs a lot of work. I’d like to see iPad, Mac, and web apps added, timeline filtering with a follow-only view, more robust search, a multi-user login option, the promised ActivityPub integration, support for EU users, and more. Mosseri has already said ActivityPub and a follow-only view are coming. Plus, Meta is reportedly working to bring Threads to the EU, and although I don’t hold out much hope for iPad and Mac apps, I expect most of the other features I’ve listed will come in time.
It’s far too early to declare Threads a success. However, it’s already over a hump that few other services have accomplished. The app is easy to sign up for and log into, it’s simple to find people you know, and it has held up under the pressure of millions of new users in its first half day in existence. That’s an impressive start, and with Meta’s scale and resources, Threads’ chances of becoming a dominant force among the current alternatives to Twitter are very high.
The MacStories team is on Threads. You can find us at: