After months of speculation and secrecy, the long-rumored rival app to Mark Zuckerberg’s Twitter is here.
The new app, Threads, was unveiled Wednesday as a complement to Instagram, the popular photo-sharing network that Zuckerberg’s company, Meta, bought more than a decade ago. If Instagram execs have their way, Threads will also replace rival Twitter, and is referred to as a “Twitter killer” by some tech insiders.
The release of Threads intensifies the rivalry between Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, who bought Twitter last year. Musk has changed the Twitter experience by tweaking its algorithm and other features, and more recently imposed temporary limits on the number of tweets people could read when using the app, prompting outrage.
Many tech companies have tried to cash in on the Twitter turmoil in recent months. But Threads has an edge, backed by Meta’s deep pockets and Instagram’s massive user base of over two billion monthly active users worldwide.
In a post to his Threads account on Wednesday, Zuckerberg said: “I think there should be a public chat app with over a billion people on it. Twitter has had the opportunity to do this, but hasn’t succeeded. Hopefully we will.”
Here’s what you should know about threads.
What is Threads and how does it work?
Created by Instagram, Threads is positioned as an app where people can have real-time public conversations with each other. Threads also helps power Instagram, which is a prominent app in the Meta family of products.
“The idea is to hopefully build a community-friendly, open space,” Adam Mosseri, director of Instagram, said in an interview.
Instagram has tied Threads closely to itself. Those interested in signing up for the new app must have an Instagram account by now. A user’s Instagram handle must also be their Threads username.
And people will be able to directly import the list of people they follow on Instagram into Threads if they want to. Verified Instagram users will also be verified on the new app. Users can set their Threads account to be private or public.
How is Threads similar to or different from Twitter?
Threads looks almost identical to Twitter in many ways. Users can post mostly text-based messages in a scrolling feed, where people following them and those they follow can reply. People can also post photos or videos on the app.
But Threads is also different from Twitter. It does not currently support direct messaging, a feature offered by Twitter. Instagram said it can add features to Threads if new users request them.
How did Instagram come up with Threads?
Instagram has made a concerted effort to simplify its app in recent years, Mosseri said. As part of that effort, she said, Threads became a separate app. That way Instagram wouldn’t be too bogged down trying to make public conversations work within your existing app.
The choice to create a new app was also hard to resist, Mosseri added, especially at a tumultuous time in the social media landscape.
“There was an opportunity or demand for more people to play in the public space,” he said, referring to the changes around Twitter under Musk. Mr. Mosseri added that the opportunity to challenge Twitter arose “not just because of ownership, but because of product changes and decisions” that Mr. Musk and others made about how the social platform works.
Instagram began its effort to take on Twitter late last year, with dozens of engineers, product managers and designers pitching ideas for what a rival app might look like. Among the notions that Meta workers discussed at the time were a broader rollout of a feature called Instagram Notes, where people can share short messages on the site, and a text-focused app using Instagram technology.
Ultimately, Mosseri said, he and other managers decided they should “take a gamble” on the space and leaned toward building what became Threads.
How will Threads work with other apps?
Instagram’s goal is ultimately to have Threads work across multiple apps in what it calls Fediverse, which is short for a federated universe of services that share communication protocols. Other apps like Mastodon, another social network, also work this way.
This may sound like a lot of talking about technology. What it means, essentially, is that Instagram wants to make it easy for Threads to work seamlessly with other platforms, which could appeal to creators and influencers so they don’t have to start from scratch on every app.
If a creator amassed a sizable following on Threads, for example, they could apparently take those followers with them to other platforms that are built on the same technology. That would make it less risky for creators and could free them from the feeling of being “stuck” on one platform, Mosseri said.
Has Instagram cloned other apps?
Zuckerberg’s Meta, which also owns Facebook and WhatsApp, has a long history of trying to take down social media rivals, in part by copying their features. Mr. Zuckerberg is fiercely competitive and has always wanted a product that achieves what Twitter does.
That strategy does not always guarantee success. Facebook’s early attempts to clone the ephemeral messaging app Snapchat, for example, initially didn’t gain much traction.
Still, Meta has continued to imitate its rivals. In 2020, Meta launched a TikTok copycat called Reels, which focuses on short videos and has since become widely used.
Where will the threads be available?
Threads is available to download for free from the Apple App Store and Google Play store in the United States and approximately 100 other countries starting Wednesday. It has plans to expand further.
But Meta said Threads won’t initially be available in the European Union, one of the company’s biggest markets. A new EU law called the Digital Markets Law will take effect in the coming months and limits how the biggest tech companies share data between services. Meta said he was waiting to get more details on the implementation of the law before presenting Threads in the 27-nation bloc.
satarian adam contributed reporting.