Meta’s long-waited Threads app has completed its ring walk and started its social media cage match with Twitter. You can download the app for iOS and Android phones now, but what exactly is Threads and should you get involved? We’ve rounded up all the key facts to help you decide.
Meta calls Threads “a new, separate space for real-time updates and public conversations”. In reality, it’s a text-based version of Instagram that’s landed to turn the heads of Twitter users who might be tiring of the app’s seemingly endless drama and unannounced changes.
But with Meta also planning to add support for the open ActivityPub protocol soon, Threads could also become a hub for your conversations across several different apps. As always with Meta apps, there are privacy and data issues to bear in mind before you sign up for Threads, too.
While Elon Musk hasn’t yet directly commented on Threads’ arrival yet, he seems a little miffed. In a reply to a post about him deleting his Instagram account in 2018, he said “it is infinitely preferable to be attacked by strangers on Twitter, than indulge in the false happiness of hide-the-pain Instagram”.
Perhaps that mooted cage match isn’t so unlikely, after all. Until then, here’s how to decide whether Threads is really the new social network for you…
7 things you need to know about Meta’s Threads
1. It’s out now on iOS and Android, but not in the EU
The Threads app (official name: ‘Threads, an Instagram app’) is available to download right now for free on iOS and Android. Check out our guide on how to download Threads to get started and claim your handle.
A word of warning: there are some copycat apps on the Play Store, so make sure to search for that specific name above. Alternatively, you go find it in the latest version of the Instagram app by going to your profile in the bottom right-hand corner, then tapping the hamburger menu in the top right and hitting the ‘Threads’ option.
Threads is launching in over 100 countries including the US, UK and Australia, but not in the EU (for now). While the EU hasn’t actively blocked the app, the reason is apparently due to privacy regulations – and also Meta’s recent run-ins with the EU about running adverts based on personal data.
2. It’s like Twitter, but different
On first impressions, Threads is a lot like Twitter – to the extent that Mark Zuckerberg even came out of Twitter retirement to tweet the famous meme showing two Spider-Men pointing at each other.
But there are also some distinct differences. Posts can be 500 characters long (rather than Twitter’s 280 character limit) and you can also share videos that are up to five minutes long. Photographers will also be happy to see that photos aren’t cropped in the same way as Twitter, with portrait and landscape snaps both supported.
Another big difference is that Meta’s planning to make Threads compatible with ActivityPub “soon”. ActivityPub is an open protocol used by the likes of Mastodon and WordPress, which in theory could let you follow and interact with people within those apps (and any others that support ActivityPub) within Threads itself. That could be a big change from today’s siloed social media experience.
3. Threads has hit 10 million users, according to Zuck
The close integration of Threads and Instagram is working nicely for Meta’s new Twitter clone, it seem – according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg Threads got 10 million sign-ups in its first seven hours, so that figure is now likely much higher.
To put that in context, Instagram currently has around 1.35 billion active monthly users, while Twitter has around 353 million monthly users worldwide. Still, while Threads is understandably small fry right now, it could make a dent in that Twitter figure if users decide they’ve had enough of blue ticks and meltdowns.
4. It replaces the old Instagram Threads
This isn’t the first time Instagram has launched a new app called Threads – back in October 2019, it launched a messaging app with the same name that was designed to take out Snapchat.
At the time, Meta (then Facebook) called the original Threads “a new way to message with close friends in a dedicated, private space”. But it was ultimately shut down 2021 after only picking up around 200,000 users, and the features were folded into Instagram itself.
The new Threads has seemingly got off to a much stronger start, but time will tell if it’ll ultimately go the way of its predecessor and become just another feature in the increasingly bloated Instagram.
5. Threads gathers a lot of your sensitive data
Like many apps, Threads is rather hungry for your personal data – and arguably more so than most. So it’s certainly something that’s worth bearing in mind before you set up your account, particularly as deleting your Threads account in the future will also mean deleting your Instagram account.
The App Store’s ‘privacy’ page lists of all the data the app collects and uses in its highly targeted advertising. While Twitter does also collect many of the same pieces of data – including your search history, location and browsing history – Threads goes further with your financial info and, in particular, ‘sensitive info’.
According to the App Store’s guidelines, ‘sensitive info’ includes “racial or ethnic data, sexual orientation, pregnancy or childbirth information, disability, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, political opinion, genetic information, or biometric data”.
So if you’d rather not have that data collected and linked to your identity, it might be wise to pause and pick a different social media app.
6. The close Instagram ties are handy, but also a lock-in
Threads and Instagram are closely tied, which is both a blessing a curse. On the plus side, using your Instagram account to set yourself up on Threads (which is currently the only way to do it) makes it super-easy to get started.
You can simply port your Instagram handle over to Threads and it also gives you the option to follow all the same people that you already follow on Insta. On the other hand, you may want to follow completely different people on a text-based app, and there’s currently no easy way to port your Twitter follows over.
Also, it appears that deleting your Threads account in the future will also mean deleting your Instagram one – so this lock-in is something to bear in mind before you start dabbling.
7. It’s missing Twitter features, but more are en route
Understandably, Threads has launched in pretty basic form, so if you’re looking for an immediate Twitter replacement, you may be disappointed. For example, there’s currently no chronological feed, no proper search function (you can only search for other accounts), and no bookmarks or lists (which are many people’s default way of using Twitter). You also can’t yet send direct messages.
But according to Meta, a lot more features are coming soon. The big one is that support for the ActivityPub protocol, which should let you follow and interact with people on other apps (like Mastodon) within your Threads timeline.
Other features beyond that are also en route, with Meta also promising better discovery tools, “improved recommendations” and “a more robust search function”. And a chronological rather than algorithmic feed? Time will tell.