If you were hoping for a cage match between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, sorry to disappoint you but the only thing you’re getting is a social media war. For now. And in today’s Finshots, we tell you why it won’t be easy to bet on who’ll win.
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15 years ago, Zuckerberg wanted Twitter.
Yup, he tried acquiring the bird app a few times. But it just never worked out. And then he probably got busy acquiring and building other stuff — like Instagram, WhatsApp, and the Metaverse. So the Twitter idea was put on the back burner.
Until yesterday…when Zuckerberg launched Threads to take on Musk.
Now in case the name does ring a bell, it's only because Threads is a direct reference to Twitter . You make a thread when you string together a bunch of tweets. So yeah, it’s quite the wannabe.
But can Threads really break Twitter’s near monopoly in the social text-based app world?
Well, over the past few months (and years), we’ve seen a few Twitter alternatives pop up. We had Mastodon which briefly gained popularity when Musk took over Twitter. But then the users slowly dropped. We have India’s very own Koo. It's making noise in some parts of the world but daily user count seems to have halved to 4 million in the past year. There’s Spoutible - perhaps the cleanest doppelganger to Twitter. But no one’s really talking about it yet. And now we have ex-Twitter CEO backed-Bluesky, but the reviews don't inspire a lot of confidence just yet.
And the pattern is always the same. The apps initially make some noise. People think they’ll pose tough competition for Twitter. And then the hype peters out. So far, no app has achieved the critical mass yet to really snatch away users from the incumbent i.e. Twitter.
But everyone believes that Threads could be the real deal. Why, you ask?
Simply because Zuckerberg is tightly integrating it with Instagram. You see, the photo-sharing network has nearly 2.5 billion monthly active users. That’s a fourth of the world’s population. The network effect is massive. Think of Instagram as one huge party with the most popular people in the world. You want to go there because everyone’s already there. You can follow more of your friends to see what they’re up to. You can track the moves of your favourite celebrities. The network effect adds value to your digital social life. It keeps you in the know.
And this means that Threads doesn’t need to build its user network from scratch either. Unlike other ‘me too’ apps. It just needs to find a way to migrate some of Instagram’s users. Maybe through something as simple as a notification telling you a friend or someone you follow on the photo-sharing app has posted their unfiltered thoughts on Threads. Just a subtle nudge to get the herd moving in a new direction.
And this existing network is Threads’ greatest advantage. Apparently, 30 million people have signed up on its first day.
So yeah, you can see why people are already calling it the Twitter killer.
Now it all sounds simple enough on paper. But will it actually work? Or will Threads find a place in the graveyard of Twitter clones that simply tried and failed?
Well, we don’t honestly know the answer. And we don’t want to bet against Zuck. But maybe, just maybe, Threads will fail to topple Twitter.
Just hear us out, won’t you?
For starters, let’s look at Instagram’s history of copying ideas first.
Like the TikTok copycat Reels. Sure, Zuckerberg says people now spend 25% more time on the app. But as of last year, people still spent nearly 200 million hours a day on TikTok while Reels got only 17.6 million hours. TikTok still reigns supreme for short video.
Then there’s the disappearing Stories feature - something that Snapchat had originally pioneered. Sure, it has worked pretty well for the company but it hasn’t destroyed Snap yet. Snap innovated and they're doing pretty well so far.
Also, Instagram had this ‘Candid stories’ feature. It lifted the idea from BeReal which asked users to share unfiltered photos once a day. It would snap both a front-facing and back-facing photo simultaneously. And BeReal is still around. It may not have the same virality but that’s not because Instagram ate its lunch.
Long story short, Instagram doesn’t seem to have killed everyone it copied.
Hold on. But Twitter is different, you say. The bird app is flailing since Musk took over. Users are falling out of love with the app and slowly trickling away. Advertisers are dropping out in droves and Twitter’s ad revenue this year might be 28% lower than last year. And every week, there seems to be a change in the rules of the game. For instance, there was a hullaballoo last week when Twitter suddenly decided to limit the number of tweets people could see each day. Twitter users were livid.
So Threads couldn’t have come at a better time really. It’s perfect. And since 87% of Twitter users already seem to be on Instagram, it does seem like an easy switch to make.
But to really understand whether Threads can kill Twitter, we first need to answer the big question — Why do people actually use Twitter?
Well, in one word — for news.
Because as per Twitter’s own survey, that’s what 55% of people claimed. It’s ‘the’ place for real-time updates whenever something happens. The good, bad, and ugly as they unfold. It played a pivotal part in the uprising in Egypt and Tunisia a decade ago. Researchers have studied Twitter sentiment to determine how it affects stock prices.
Okay, maybe not just for news. But also for — sh*tposting.
These are often controversial and provocative statements made without context. But a simpler way to think of it is as “serious people making silly posts”. Now while Merriam-Webster says the word was first used in the early 1990s, it’s places like Twitter that took shitposting mainstream. If you believe Google Trends, people started to pay attention to shitposting somewhere around 2014. Yeah, people seem to like unhinged thoughts too. And it became part of the cultural zeitgeist.
So that’s Twitter. Or simply put, as one ad executive said to Vox, “News breaks on Twitter. Culture happens on Twitter.”
And that means you could argue that Twitter isn’t really the place you’d go to see what your friends and family are up to. That’s not what this social network is for.
So what will Threads do? What void will it really fill? Sure there will be the honeymoon phase where everyone wants to use the shiny new thing. But what happens when the sheen wears off? Will people still want Twitter's ‘news’ and ‘shitposting’ despite its problems? Or will they want the ‘friendly’ stuff that Zuckerberg is promising on Threads? We’ll have to wait and see.
Until then…maybe don’t write Twitter’s eulogy.