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The existential problems with Threads
No one wants a text-based Instagram, and even Elon's missteps won't be enough to make it interesting beyond the Paris Hilton/goldfish attention-span crowd
Threads, the latest social venture by Meta, may seem like a promising platform at first glance, but a closer examination reveals fundamental flaws that suggest its terminal existence as another “mall-like” destination on the internet. A safe space and padded room for ideas to be shared under the watchful eyes of a megacorp serving only the interests of pearl-clutching advertisers and political eyes. Expression the Technodrome and its invisible committee sees fit to bless. And such great actors historically, as Jason puts…
Many are surprisingly fine with this. I doubt people reading are so inclined to cede their internet identity and content to a singular, unsocial company that has taken such actions. Like we do not invest money in companies with a proven history of missing expectations, it does not make sense to invest time in brands with a proven history of ruining communities or throttling reach. That’s happened here, in spades.
At best, and I believe this is the likely case, Threads will be a text extension of Instagram and folded into that app. At worst quietly deprecated in the future. In an era where users are increasingly aware of the value of their content and demand fair compensation, Threads faces existential problems at eating smaller sites like Reddit and Twitter. The following bear case outlines their problems at this juncture.
Oversaturation and user fatigue: The social media landscape is now extremely saturated with established platforms which have accumulated massive user bases and dominant market positions. Threads faces an uphill battle in trying to attract users away from these well-entrenched platforms, especially since people are less inclined to invest time and effort in yet another social network. Even in terms of Instagram, most users are there because they prefer posting and consuming images and video. Other, text-centric platforms exist because users there skillfully and lovingly work with text (and generally value their time higher). The internet has been divided this way not by chance. For people who enjoy text, memes and metacognition of ideas, user fatigue and resistance to embracing yet another platform will hinder Threads' growth prospects. Why would the best people give Meta their time and effort free of charge? This leads into my next point…
Lack of financial incentives: One of the key factors that contributed to the success of early social media platforms was the absence of financial compensation for users. However, as the internet landscape has evolved, users have become more aware of the value of their data and content. Threads' inability to offer financial incentives or rewards to its users puts it at a disadvantage, as users are now less willing to contribute their time and creativity to a platform without any direct financial upside. The internet is changing here rapidly. People are not so willing to give their best work away for free. That window on the web has closed, save for the few places we’re conditioned to do this. Those are legacy artifacts that will live on as long as they can, but if you’re at all self-aware you’re now biasing to places with financial upside for you. Digital sharecroppers no longer.
Trust issues and privacy concerns: Given Meta's track record with privacy scandals and data breaches, users are becoming increasingly skeptical about entrusting their personal information to yet another social media platform, especially one with low trust. The recent backlash against data privacy violations has created a climate of distrust, making it challenging for Threads to gain the trust of users who prioritize the security and privacy of their data. Further, Facebook is proven an enemy here for publishers and creators who they need. As I wrote in a Substack note:
Inequality and rigged gameplay: The bear case also highlights the concern that Threads could foster a sense of inequality and unfairness among its users. If some users were given early access or special privileges ("free alpha"), it creates a rigged game where certain participants have an advantage over others. This dynamic discourages engagement and participation from the very users that Threads aims to attract – those who are interesting and contribute valuable content. My friend Ed Zitron wrote more on this one in his recent post:
Threads lacks any of the magic of a new social network because it already built its own caste system. If you had a big Instagram following, it automatically guaranteed you a big Threads following, except the biggest accounts on Instagram do not produce the kind of content that makes a network like Threads interesting to use. Twitter’s value was that your thoughts could theoretically stand toe-to-toe with a celebrity or influencer’s. By cramming popular accounts into the network from day one, Meta has decided who will be popular.
Shifting user behavior and preferences: User behavior and preferences continue to evolve rapidly in the digital landscape. The rise of niche communities, private messaging apps, and more personalized content experiences have reshaped the way people interact online. “Dark social” already sends more traffic to sites than Facebook. Threads' generic approach to social networking may struggle to adapt to these shifting trends and fail to meet the diverse needs and expectations of users.
Lack of authenticity and creativity: One of the criticisms that can be levied against existing social media platforms, such as Instagram, is the prevalence of cheesy, unoriginal content. Memes, jokes, and trends often get recycled and diluted across multiple platforms, including Reddit and Twitter, leading to a sense of staleness and lack of creativity. If Threads merely replicates this content without offering a fresh perspective or fostering genuine creativity, it risks being seen as just another uninteresting and uninspiring platform, failing to captivate users who seek more authentic and engaging experiences. Instagram's reputation as a hub for shallow and superficial content further exacerbates this issue. With an overemphasis on perfectly curated images, self-promotion, and unrealistic standards of beauty, the platform has been criticized for promoting an inauthentic and unattainable lifestyle. If Threads falls into the same trap, failing to provide a platform where users can express their true selves and engage in meaningful conversations, it will struggle to appeal to users seeking genuine connections and creative outlets.
Censorship and lack of free expression: One of the major criticisms leveled against Facebook, the parent company of Threads, is its perceived heavy-handed approach to content moderation and censorship. Critics argue that Facebook has often taken a role akin to a "hall monitor," policing and suppressing certain types of speech and expression on its platform. The head of Insta has basically already gone on record saying they’re going to do this with Threads too. This approach has sparked debates about the erosion of free speech and the stifling of diverse opinions and perspectives. If Threads inherits similar content moderation practices from Facebook, it risks alienating users who value free expression and open dialogue. In an era where users increasingly prioritize platforms that foster healthy debates and allow for a range of opinions, Threads could find itself on the wrong side of the argument. Users who seek an environment that encourages free speech and respects differing viewpoints may be deterred from joining a network that is associated with the hall monitor-esque mentality of Facebook.
In a digital landscape that craves genuine and relatable content, Threads must distinguish itself by fostering a culture of authenticity and originality. Without a strong focus on empowering users to express their true selves and promoting creativity that goes beyond rehashed trends and clichés, Threads would become just another uninspiring corner of the internet, contributing little value to users' online experiences and enriching their lives. Hard to see how that does not occur, beyond the goldfish audience - which if we’re being honest - do we really care about? It’s so far downstream of culture anyway, bit like surviving on digital bugs.
It is amusing watching Twitter see how the other half live on Instagram, and illustrates clearly why there's a market for Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, Substack, etc. There will never be one ring to rule them all with social because we aren't a monoculture. Makes no sense. Should be many products and companies here.
While Threads may carry the backing of Meta, its prospects in being a place that nurtures real digital culture, origination of memes and anything beyond more meta smarminess seems grim. With the window of opportunity for new social media companies rapidly closing, Threads seems like a last hail-Mary by Facebook simply to capitalize on the fact that Twitter and Elon have made missteps. I am not a fan of this either, but will not be leaving Twitter and hold out hope they rectify their issues.
As usual with Facebook products, you are the frog in a constantly boiling kettle. They will sting you like the scorpion below, in the form of throttling your reach to 0 or locking you out inexplicably. It is their nature, and their playbook. We all built fan page communities with millions of users that they unceremoniously and without warning killed. Surprised the media has little memory here, given they all embedded Facebook widgets on their websites and helped grow the company as an unpaid part of their marketing team. At least Google continues to provide organic traffic…
One final note, I beg the Substack folk and Elon to get over themselves and end the feud. As my friend Mike Solana shares, they’re on the same team and this only harms both of them.
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