Sunday, July 16, 2023

My Thoughts on Meta's Threads

Long before I became an author, I was a software engineer for many years. Technically, I still am a software engineer as I often write bits of code here and there to solve or assist with various problems that crop up throughout my efforts as a publisher. It's for that reason that I tend to enjoy analyzing new technologies and their impacts on existing markets and facets of the tech world, and the world at large. You might say that sort of thing is baked into me at this point.

Still, I've always been reluctant to jump in and pontificate about such developments without taking some time to properly assess the tech and the ways it's being used as I don't believe there's much value in rushing to judgment if one's goal isn't simply to "get some clicks."

Thus, I've taken my time with Meta's new social media platform, "Threads." I've studied it and used it fairly extensively over the past week or so since its launch and I've come to some conclusions that I feel reasonably comfortable sharing.

So, without further ado, here are my thoughts on Threads:

For me, there are three key factors that differentiate Threads from the myriad of other social media options available, particularly when compared with its most-obvious rival, Twitter.

1 - the absence of hashtags, direct messages, and keyword searches

At its core, Threads is a platform that purports to be about "conversations," specifically public conversations, and nowhere is that ethos more strikingly represented than in the things (I believe) it intentionally lacks when compared with its social media contemporaries.

Users can only "search" for other users, not keywords, phrases, or topics. They therefore have to find people who create new Threads (posts) about things they're interested in either by already being aware of them, or by seeing their Threads in the "home" feed as a result of them becoming popular enough to show up there. They also are only able to communicate with each other publicly, via likes, reposts, and comments. There are no private messages, which ensures that any Thread or comment a user makes can potentially be seen by anyone, even non-Threads users who might view the content anonymously via the app's bare-bones web interface.

What this means is that you won't see the typical wall of hashtags in a post you might find on other platforms, unless you happen upon something posted by someone relatively new to Threads, who's yet to realize that they don't actually work or serve any purpose in that context.

Users can be "mentioned" as they can on other social media apps via an @, but that's about the only such targeting convention that Threads allows, which again means that you as a user will largely end up seeing content from other users that you've specifically interacted with in some way (followed, liked, commented on, mentioned, etc.)

The end result of this key design decision is a platform that inherently feels more personal and intimate because it is. Sure, when you first start using Threads, your home feed will be inundated with "popular" posts from "popular" people and entities; however, the more you use the app and the more you interact with other users and their content, the less generic and more specific, and (for lack of a better term) curated, the experience becomes.

That said, it's early days for Threads and who knows what it will end up being like if and when advertising and biased algorithms become involved but for now, it has a very pure "old-school internet" vibe to it that I'd say represents the bulk of its appeal and its most stand-out quality in the current "tech culture" landscape.

2 - its emphasis on text over imagery

It may seem like a small thing but I believe the decision to position the text of a post over any media associated with it, versus how things are done on Instagram for example, where images and video are front and center and any captions are generally presented and consumed as an afterthought, if at all, strikes me as very intentional. Again, this seems to reenforce the notion of Threads being targeted at conversationalists, who value a well-written bit of prose over any sort of meme or eye candy.

I've even noted quite the pushback against several posts primarily containing video from many in the community who seem to feel such things have no place on Threads and "belong on Instagram."

Note: For those unaware, Threads and Instagram use the same login credentials and to a large extent, Threads is being pitched by Meta as the text-centric, conversational extension of Instagram despite being its own separate app with its own unique endpoints (web site, mobile apps, etc.)

On a related note, I also find it interesting that the Threads app generally discourages an abundance of media in posts. Users can present external links, an image or group of images, or even a video but only one of them will render in the post, and always at the bottom, after all text and before the engagement buttons (like, share, comment, etc.)

Again, I think this is very intentional and speaks to the overarching goal of the app being to create a place more about text-based conversations than anything else, despite other mediums being allowed, ostensibly to support or enhance those conversations.  

3 - the stripped-down, minimalist UI/UX

A lot of people have been floating the idea that the current Threads user experience is only as "simple and clean" as it is because "missing" features haven't been finished and added yet but I seriously doubt that's the case. With the money and resources Meta has at its disposal, I imagine there's very little they wanted in the app, which, let's face it, isn't anything all that impressive from a technical standpoint beyond its need to scale to accommodate tens or hundreds of millions of concurrent users, that isn't already there.

Sure, they no doubt have a roadmap, and there will almost certainly be changes and additions to Threads throughout its lifespan, but I suspect it's already far closer to "finished" than many seem to think.

If so, I consider that a good thing. My experience using the app thus far has been surprisingly positive and I don't have any trouble seeing why people have been flocking to it. Is it a silver bullet "Twitter killer?" Maybe, but I'd argue that most of Twitter's biggest wounds, particularly over the past year or so, have been largely self-inflicted.

One thing's for sure, though. Threads is definitely "unique" in the current social media landscape. When I look at it compared to other micro-blog "Twitter competitors" like Mastodon and Bluesky, I see a lot that differentiates it beyond a core philosophy (Mastodon's fediverse) or exclusivity (the only thing Bluesky really seems to have going or it at the moment in my opinion.)

It will definitely be interesting to see how this all plays out in the coming weeks, months, and years but those are my thoughts at the moment.

If you're on Threads, or interested in checking it out, be sure to visit my profile and consider giving me a follow there. As always, you can find all my social media links here, or via my Linktree.

As a little bonus, here's my current "wish list" for Threads:

  • an "edit" button (This could be character and/or time limited but it would be nice to have some option rather than having to delete-repost just to fix a simple typo.)
  • a limit on the number of new Threads users can create in a given time period (I think 1 per-day or 3-5 per week would greatly increase the quality of Threads being created and encourage users to interact more with the Threads others have started, rather than just churning out a slew of their own.)
  • a dark mode toggle for the mobile app (Oddly, such a toggle is already available via the Threads logo in the web app but I've yet to locate an equivalent function in the iOS version.) 
  • a proper desktop app
  • a proper (fully functional) web app (as opposed to the current "view-only" offering)

Until next time, happy reading, everybody!