Threads Review | Meta’s new app wears Twitter’s skin but lacks its teeth

Meta’s Threads app has taken a lot of inspiration from Twitter but delivers a surface-level experience and shies away from controversy

Updated - July 11, 2023 05:30 pm IST

Published - July 11, 2023 04:36 pm IST

With 100 million sign-ups within a week of its launch, Meta’s text-based conversation app Threads has unsettled even Twitter owner Elon Musk [File]

With 100 million sign-ups within a week of its launch, Meta’s text-based conversation app Threads has unsettled even Twitter owner Elon Musk [File] | Photo Credit: Reuters

With 100 million sign-ups within a week of its launch, Meta’s text-based conversation app Threads has unsettled even Twitter owner Elon Musk, whose lawyer Alex Spiro accused Meta of hiring former Twitter employees to build a “copycat” app. The Hindu tried out Threads for a few days to see whether it deserves to be called a Twitter killer.

Concept

Threads is a text-based app for public conversation that is based on Instagram, and was developed by Meta’s Instagram team. Users will have to sign up for Instagram to use Threads, and can migrate with their same username and the accounts they were following on Instagram.

However, the first dark pattern or user interface manipulation a Threads member encounters is the late realisation that in order to delete Threads, they will have to delete their Instagram account as well. The two are inextricably linked, though this may change in the future.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri has said that Threads does not plan to replace Twitter, but instead wants to welcome communities which did not work well with Twitter, or draw in users who want a less “angry” place for conversations.

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More worryingly, he warned that while news and politics will not be censored on Threads, these topics will not be actively courted by the platform. Considering that Twitter is seeing a spike in false news and impersonation due to its new paid blue tick model, Threads’ lack of commitment to these verticals feels like both an easy escape and a missed opportunity. After all, if users only want cozy photos and dreamy captions, Instagram is just a tap or two away.

Design and User Interface

To put it bluntly, Threads wears the same skin as Twitter but uses more attractive icons. There are options to heart posts, comment, repost or quote posts, and share them across platforms. Users can see the number of replies and likes a post has received, as well as some photo icons showing users who have commented in response to posts. However, none of these users were people whom I knew, so it was largely unnecessary.

Threads features more grey text than Twitter, including in places where simple icons would have sufficed. The grey text colour also makes it difficult to compose threads. Twitter feels more clean and accessible for now, and also has alt-text features.

A side-by-side comparison of the Twitter and Threads user interface

A side-by-side comparison of the Twitter and Threads user interface | Photo Credit: Screenshots from Threads and Twitter; Compiled with Canva

User Experience

When signing in to Threads the application crashed multiple times, though this could have been due to its initial popularity.

On data privacy, users are giving the app permission to potentially collect a lot of extremely personal information, including their religious beliefs and sexual orientation. Meta’s history of protecting user data is poor and the app’s release is stalled in the EU. This should give privacy-conscious users a reason to pause before they hit ‘Download.’

A screenshot showing only a part of the data which Threads may collect from users

A screenshot showing only a part of the data which Threads may collect from users | Photo Credit: Google Play Store

Threads users can make posts up to 500 characters in length and publish media such as links, images, and videos which are up to five minutes long. The platform is filling up fast and users will likely find a number of mutuals from both Instagram and Twitter.

In the future, Threads aims to adopt the ActivityPub open social networking protocol, meaning that it can work with platforms such as Mastodon and WordPress. For now, however, the user experience is still centralised.

Threads may be out in the world and in the hands of millions of users, but it is still missing some key features such as direct messages (DMs) and the option for a chronological timeline containing only posts from users one is already following. However, Mosseri has said that chronological feeds will be coming to Threads. A desktop version of the platform is also necessary, considering Threads’ text-first identity.

Another large omission is the lack of keyword searches and trends. Veteran Twitter users will understand the need for such extensive searches, whether it is locating tweet zero which ignited a passive-aggressive digital debate where no one is naming names, or sifting through a celebrity’s 50.6k tweets and replies to find the one remark which proves a problematic past.

On a more serious note, keyword searches and region-specific trends as supported by Twitter are indispensable to professionals such as marketers, social media managers, official authorities, and journalists. Without this feature, using Threads makes for a shallow experience.

Verdict

While Meta’s Threads arrived on the back of a floundering Twitter and quickly gathered millions of users, the app is still missing many vital search functions and timeline controls which would enable professional users to benefit from it.

For now, Threads is a social media app which wears Twitter’s skin but lacks its depth, especially since it plans to steer away from news and political updates. However, Meta’s new app will attract many optimistic users who want a social media platform with relatively more stable leaders and less impersonation.

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