Twitter alternative Threads could rise above Mastodon, Blue Sky
As Twitter faces mounting backlash over its latest policy changes, alternative social apps like Blue Sky and Mastodon are standing by to welcome disgruntled Twitter users. But, so far, these communities have failed to approach even a sliver of the blue bird app's size.
Meta's new Threads app, however, the so-called "Twitter killer" launched this week, may offer them a new nesting place where a bigger community could flourish, experts say.
Threads, a microblogging platform by Facebook's parent-company, Meta, could supplant Twitter as the go-to forum for journalists and the chronically-online, according to some social media experts. The app's integration with Instagram and access to Meta's vast technical and financial resources have helped it attract early adopters more quickly than other Twitter alternatives.
But whether the platform can retain those users will depend on its ability to roll out features that appease Twitter defectors and replicate the app's pre-Musk culture.
Meta launched Threads ahead of schedule on July 5, shortly after Twitter sparked an uproar by placing daily limits on the number of posts its account holders could access. The company's speedy roll out meant that Threads debuted without popular features like personalized feeds, making it tough to predict the long-term success of the app, David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, told CBS MoneyWatch.
"There's still a lot we don't know about the app because they rolled out kind of half-finished," Karpf said. "Twitter was just looking so incredibly vulnerable that if Meta was going to build a replacement [platform], now was the time to roll it out."
The timing of the launch has been a boon for Threads, however. Users' frustrations with Twitter spurred immediate interest in the app, bringing its signups to more than 70 million within days of its debut. That's more than current user numbers of Mastodon and Blue Sky combined.
The rapidly growing user base could soon bring in much-needed advertising revenue for Threads, allowing the app to fund its own development. However, the service debuted without ads, and until it introduces advertising, Meta can easily finance its operations.
"If Mark Zuckerberg can spend $10 to $15 billion a year trying to build the metaverse, he can definitely spend a lot less than that trying to kill Twitter," Karpf said.
That access to billions of dollars gives Threads an advantage over other Twitter competitors, and even an edge on Twitter itself.
"With interest rates being so high, it's gonna be harder for [Twitter and Twitter copycats] to get cheap money to develop features to be competitive," said Joseph Panzarella, a clinical assistant professor of digital marketing and media at Yeshiva University. "Meta is willing, and in a position, to put money behind this."
Threads' integration with Instagram is another thing that sets it apart from early Twitter copycats. Instagram has roughly four times the number of users as Twitter, data from social media management platform Sprout Social shows. That means Threads needs to attract just a portion of Instagram's existing users to match Twitter's size, Panzarella noted.
To create a Threads account, Instagram users simply link their new Meta profile to their existing Instagram accounts. That allows users to automatically transfer their Instagram followers to Threads, which could help boost the app's adoption tremendously, Panzarella said.
"Threads, being part of this suite of options Meta offers, can attract that critical mass [of users]," he said. "With a feature that allows you to take followers with you … you don't have to be within a totally gated community."
However, making users link their accounts to their Instagram profiles could spur privacy concerns. It could also dissuade pseudonymous Twitter users, who form a large part of active communities like Crypto Twitter, from embracing Threads. Also, journalists who may not want to link their private Instagram account to their professional Threads account, may also hesitate to join the app through Instagram.
Threads' reliance on its Instagram integration signals that the app hasn't quite nailed down the culture that made Twitter so popular before its acquisition by Elon Musk, according to Karpf.
"[Threads] doesn't have the culture right yet," Karpf said. "Twitter, before the chaos, was for journalists and for some cultures that were just a little too 'online'… It filled a particular niche that Instagram doesn't fill."