Tech

A year later, what Threads could learn from other social networks

Threads, Meta’s alternative to Twitter, just celebrated its first birthday. After launching on July 5 last year, the social network has reached 175 million monthly active users — that’s a notable achievement. But, after a year, Threads is trying to find its own voice by not being as newsy as Twitter/X and also not being as open as Mastodon or Bluesky — at least for now.

Over the course of the last year, the Threads team has shipped features at a rapid pace and has also gathered feedback on the social network directly through its users. After the launch, Threads has gained support for multiple profiles, a web app, a Tweetdeck-like interface on the desktop, trending topics in the U.S., and custom controls for mute and quote replies.

The company has also made some progress to integrate with the Fediverse. Users can connect their accounts to the ActivityPub protocol. Users can share their posts with the Fediverse. Plus, they can look at likes and replies from the wider Fediverse. But they can’t follow people from other servers just yet.

However, there are a lot of things Meta can learn from other social networks.

Following topics

Bluesky has done a great job with custom feeds and helping people discover different content. Custom feeds are programmatic feeds that aim to pull posts related to one topic without being just limited to one tag.

Threads implemented tags last year. But at times users end up sharing posts with different tags for an event or a trend. Is it WWDC or WWDC 2024 or WWDC 24 or Apple Event? You can save a search term and hope to get relevant and recent posts, but there is no way to combine those. Some kind of provision for this in the API, or a custom list implementation would be a great addition.

Last month, Threads made its API widely available to developers. The API enables toolmakers to post content for users and display their own posts within an app.

“The Threads API enables businesses to create and publish content on a person’s behalf on Threads and to display those posts within an app solely to the person who created it,” Meta wrote as a description for Threads’ API.

This doesn’t allow developers to create third-party apps to consume Threads. We wrote earlier this year that over the last few years, social networks have become stingy about user data. In the process, they have shut down the development of alternative experiences that could help different sets of users.

Threads’ rivals like Bluesky and Mastodon have fostered an ecosysm where third-party developers can make their own clients. It’s not clear if users will be able to pick other Mastodon clients to experience Threads when Threads achieves full integration with the Fediverse. It would be good to get some assurance that Threads is open to allowing third-party apps.

Separating Threads and Instagram

Threads built a lot of its user base through its Instagram integration. However, with more than 175 million active users, the company can afford to lose its ties with Instagram. Initially, a Threads profile was completely tied to their Instagram account. So you couldn’t delete your profile without deleting your Instagram account. However, later, the company released an update for users to deactivate or delete one account.

You can’t still create a profile that’s separate from an Instagram account. Plus, there is no way for you to DM people unless you go to their Instagram.

There is hope in this area though. In an interview with Platformer’s Casey Newton, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said that the company is thinking of moving in this direction.

“My hope is that Threads gets more independent over time. It’s still deeply integrated with Instagram — you can sign in with the same account, you can automatically follow the same accounts, and we show Threads content on Instagram. But over time, I want it to be more and more independent. We’re working on things like Threads-only accounts and data separation,” Mosseri told Platformer.

News and politics

Threads and Mosseri have taken a stance that they are not actively promoting or amplifying news and political content on the platform. Despite that, political topics surface in places like trending topics from time to time. Right now, these topics are just concentrated towards U.S. politics, but when they roll out to other regions, there will be times when political content will take over the social network. And the company should hone the product in a way that could handle extremities without suppressing news.

X’s community notes program is not perfect, and often, it makes mistakes or is prone to bias. However, at times, it succeeds in providing useful context. When it comes to news, Mastodon recently rolled out a feature to show bylines linked with the writer’s account on the social network.

The “For You” algorithm

I’ll admit it. No social network has a perfect algorithm. Video platforms like TikTok might have moved the needle in a positive direction in terms of serving interesting posts.

In comparison, Threads’ “For You” feed sometimes looks bizarre. Several people have written about strange posts appearing on their feeds that seem out of their interest sphere.

More recently, I have been just seeing posts about people asking “Where are you from?” and talking about how single life or dating is hard. I’m not sure what I did to trigger this. But Threads really needs to work on making the “For You” algorithm more palatable when showing random posts on the timeline.

Better local content

To surface local content, Threads doesn’t have to look far beyond Instagram, which has developed partnership teams in various countries. Before Elon Musk took over, Twitter also had partnership teams in various regions focusing on surfacing relevant content.

Threads rolled out live scores for NBA, MLS, and even Euro 2024. But missed out on the opportunity to engage cricket fans with live scores during the T20 World Cup last month — earlier today, the company published a blog post saying that “India is one of the most active countries on Threads globally.”

While there are areas of improvement, given the feature release cadence, we might see some of these areas being addressed sooner than later. Threads has acted friendly with Mastodon and hasn’t really cared about Bluesky. But if we are to believe Mosseri, the ultimate aim is to beat Twitter.

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