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Can Threads Beat Twitter?
As I read this tweet by Elon Musk, I looked for any signs of sarcasm, of jeer and jest. Alas, I found none.
A social media platform runs on engagement. For a social media platform to choose to limit engagement on the platform makes little sense strategically. Limiting user engagement on the app effectively leads to lower ad impressions and ad clicks, which in turn means lower revenue. On the other hand, it leaves the crowd on the platform exasperated and disappointed, further eroding their trust in the platform.
Twitter is self admittedly on a cost-cutting sprint and a plausible reason for twitter to throttle its own engagement is that it wants to reduce its infrastructure costs.
Reportedly, Twitter’s contract with GCP was set to expire on June 30, a day before Elon Musk made the announcement to rate limit tweets.
Twitter continued to push Google to lower its cloud costs, at some point it stopped paying its cloud invoices — and is now planning to move off the platform altogether.
The move has triggered a mad dash within Twitter to move as many services as it can off of Google Cloud before its contract ends on June 30. But the project is running behind schedule, sources said, leaving the fate of several key platform defenses in question.”
While Twitter’s infrastructure runs largely on their three data centers, Twitter uses GCP for ML workloads like detecting spam, combating bot accounts, etc. In Pragmatic Engineer, Gergely speculates that Twitter’s strife with its GCP contract might have led to Twitter taking excessive measures to throttle its users:
A few weeks later, on 21 June, Bloomberg reported Twitter had resumed paying Google Cloud and patched up the relationship. Still, I wonder if Twitter simply negotiated a much lower Google Cloud quota starting 1 July. Could this mean it had to limit the platform because it lost tools for reliably detecting spam accounts and bots, and needed time to build its own approach?
All in all, it is evident that since Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, the bird app is yet to find its feet.
Threads has launched at a critical juncture, a time when a vast majority of the Twitter crowd is dejected at Elon Musk’s handling of the social media app. Twitter has warmed up people to a social media that revolves around quick, text-based content, but has let them down lately. Can Threads take the space of this social media, while creating the sense of belonging that Twitter could once boast of?
Thread’s launch has been massive and deserving of applause. Unlike other Twitter competitor apps that have cropped up recently, Threads has had the unfair advantage of being able to ride on Meta’s experience in the social media space and has evidently leveraged these to quickly build out an app that dares to take on Twitter, a seventeen year old platform with over 450 million monthly active users. With the Instagram crowd thronging Threads, Threads has handled the flurry of load beautifully, its infrastructure capable of taking it all.
The only hitch with Threads’ launch seems to be that the app is still far from a release in the EU region. Creating a Threads profile requires you to have an Instagram account, and inversely, it is not possible to delete your profile on Threads without deleting your profile on Instagram. Owing to Meta’s data handling policies, Threads remains non compliant with GDPR and the europe launch has been delayed. It is clear that Meta deemed it important to go to market soon, rather than waiting to iron out all issues.
From CBS News, where Instagram chief Adam Mosseri shares his views on the delay:
Mosseri said he regretted that the EU launch was delayed, but if Meta had waited for regulatory clarity from Brussels, Threads would remain "many, many, many, months away."
"I was worried that our window would close, because timing is important," he added to Platformer, a tech news site.
Will Threads give rise to a new form of content?
With the rise of TikTok, we saw short form video content take the world by storm. Can the rise of Threads give rise to a new form of content in the universe of social media?
Instagram - a social media that revolves around photos, videos and Threads/Twitter - a text-based social media are vastly different experiences, and cater to a different crowd of people. Instagram today is mostly short captions to beautiful pictures, or verbose transcriptions of a quick reel. Can Threads give birth (or make a better home than Instagram) to a new form of content where we see long form text accompanying an attachment (picture, video, link, etc); and have the focus lie with the textual content, just as much as with the image, if not more? Think, stories accompanying a picture, for instance. While this kind of content is currently peppered on all social media, it is sporadic. Can Threads make this form of content - true micro-blogging - go mainstream? While the belief and expectation (even by Meta itself) is that Threads grows as a competitor to Twitter, in the hands of users, could Threads be malleableized to give rise to such a new form of content? While I am not betting on this either, with a character limit of 500, Threads does lend to this.
In addition to considerations like ability to scale up infrastructure, products that revolve around a network often choose a staggered onboarding of users with the motive of creating sticky networks. Products choose to do this via creating a waitlist to onboard onto their app, making the app invite-only, etc. When one user invites five other users they know, they are likely to create a tightly knit community around them, thus fostering network effects that keeps them hooked to the product. For instance, Facebook first launched only to the Harvard campus, Clubhouse went invite-only, etc. Threads, however, has taken a drastically different approach, and has made a splash with a big bang launch. Threads has Meta’s advantage rolling in here as well because they choose to ride on the network effects that Instagram is already enriched with.
Is this an easy win for Threads to have amassed not just a large number of users quickly, but large social graphs altogether? Well, this is a significant head start for Threads, but it remains to be seen how Instagram’s network effects behave on Threads. It is key to understand that people usually build very different networks and communities around different social media platforms. For instance, my Instagram is travel, food and photography, while my Twitter is technology and product. With Threads’ current onboarding setup (wherein you follow the people you already follow on Insta), these circles are very blurred. In fact, there is no easy way currently to follow different interests on Threads, as the app does not yet support hashtags, channels, or the ability to discover users based on interests that range beyond Instagram.
As hashtags are a raging feature on Meta’s Instagram, and a prominent feature on Twitter as well, it is intriguing that Meta does not have hashtags on Threads. Atleast, yet. From Forbes -
Hashtags—a key element of Twitter’s identity and a feature that has permeated other social platforms including Facebook and Instagram—are not present on Threads, as the platform does not allow users to search for specific content.
This means that there is no “trending section” on Threads and the only way to discover content on the platform is based on what Meta’s algorithm decides to serve.
Hashtags let well-received content bubble up to the top, and lend to creating “viral” content. In the absence of hashtags, or the ability to form and browse communities on Threads, Meta’s Threads is still under the radar, as it fails to cater to what users were really on Twitter for: wide ranging content, largely textual, shared by industry experts and peers, beyond your circle of family and friends. The ability to discover content catering to a range of interests is not a good-to-have, but a must-have-soon, for otherwise it can cause the network to fizzle out just as soon as it was brought up. The content on a social media platform is what makes or breaks the platform, and Threads still needs to play hard at this battle to ensure that the millions of users who signed up stick around.
Does the world need another twitter? No. Does the world still have space for a text-based social media app that can appease everyone? Maybe. And as time will tell us, only one of them will win this battle.
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