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Why Instagram is taking on Twitter with Threads

Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are still preparing for a possible cage match

While Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are still preparing for a possible cage match, starting today, their two companies are officially battling.

Meta has released Threads, its standalone Twitter competitor that is based on Instagram’s account system. According to the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, Twitter’s “volatility” and “unpredictability” under Musk provided the opening to compete. In an interview, Mosseri says that Threads is designed for “public conversations,” a direct reference to how Twitter execs have described the purpose of the service over the years.

“Obviously, Twitter pioneered the space,” according to Mosseri. “And there are a lot of good offerings out there for public conversations. But just given everything that was going on, we thought there was an opportunity to build something that was open and something that was good for the community that was already using Instagram.”

Meta has been planning to release Threads, its self-described “sanely run” version of Twitter, for a while. The backlash to Musk’s recent limiting of how many tweets people can see per day was a catalyzing event for getting the app out the door this week, according to internal company documents I’ve seen. They also say that Meta expects “tens of millions” of people to try Threads within the first few months of availability.

As Mosseri describes it, Threads is a “risky endeavor,” especially since it’s a new app people have to download. Meta has made the onboarding process easier by letting you auto-populate your account info and follow list from your Instagram, which I was able to do quickly after being granted access to Threads earlier today.

Another dynamic Threads has to contend with is that Twitter has been around for a long time and built up a unique network that is hard, if not impossible, to replicate. Even with Musk’s antics over the past several months, it’s clear Meta knows that unseating Twitter won’t be easy. “I think it’d be a mistake to underestimate both Twitter and Elon,” says Mosseri. “Twitter has got a lot of history; it has an incredibly strong and vibrant community on it. The network effects are incredibly strong.”

Threads is strikingly similar to Twitter in key ways. The app’s main feed shows posts (or, as Mosseri calls them, “threads”) from accounts you follow, along with accounts recommended by Instagram’s algorithm. You can repost something with your own commentary, and replies are featured prominently in the main feed. There is no feed of only people you follow, though that could be added later.

Posts on Threads can be up to 500 characters long and include photos or videos that are up to five minutes long. There are no ads, at least for now — adding those will be a “champagne problem” if Threads achieves enough scale, per Mosseri.

There also isn’t a paid verification scheme that unlocks additional functionality, though Instagram’s blue checks will port over to Threads accounts. With some exceptions for extreme cases like the sharing of child exploitation imagery, moderation actions Meta takes against a Threads account will not impact its associated Instagram account, according to internal documents I’ve seen.

Thanks to the deep ties between Threads and Instagram, you can quickly share posts from Threads to your Instagram story or feed. There’s also the ability to share links to Threads posts in other apps, which Mosseri predicts will be helpful as “we try to bootstrap it out from nothing.”

Meta has been busy this week onboarding a bunch of celebrities from the worlds of Hollywood, music, professional sports, business, and the like to Threads ahead of its public release. Celebs already spotted on the app include Karlie Kloss, Tony Robbins, Dana White, Gordon Ramsay, Ellie Goulding, Jack Black, Russell Wilson, and the Brazilian pop star Anitta.

Threads is initially available in 100 countries, including the US, but not in the European Union. It’s being excluded from the EU initially due to “the complexities with complying with some of the laws coming into effect next year,” according to Mosseri. That’s likely a reference to the Digital Markets Act, which imposes a bunch of new legal obligations on so-called “gatekeeper” platforms like Meta.

Is success killing Twitter?

I don’t think so. I think time has shown that there’s room for multiple players in different spaces. There are definitely network effects, and there are definitely competitive effects. But I think you look at a lot of countries around the world, and there’s a couple of major players in the social space between messaging and stories and feeds and in any combinations thereof. Brazil is a really good example. Instagram is on fire in Brazil, and WhatsApp status is enormous in Brazil. And they both continue to grow really rapidly over the last couple of years, despite the fact that they’re both huge.

I think Twitter will continue to exist. I think success will be creating a vibrant community, particularly of creators, because I do think this sort of public space is really, even more than most other types of social networks, a place where a small number of people produce most of the content that most everyone consumes. So I think it’s really about creators more than it is about average folks who I think are much more there just to be entertained.

I think [we want] a vibrant community of creators that’s really culturally relevant. It would be great if it gets really, really big, but I’m actually more interested in if it becomes culturally relevant and if it gets hundreds of millions of users. But we’ll see how it goes over the next couple of months or probably couple of years.



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