Jul 5, 2023 - Technology

Meta launches Instagram Threads, its Twitter rival

Image: Meta

Meta's clone of Twitter launched Wednesday evening and was made available in the Apple iOS App Store at 7:00 pm E.T.

The big picture: Mark Zuckerberg's bargain is to offer you a cleaner version of Twitter — "sharing with text" — in exchange for handing over more data.

  • Twitter owner Elon Musk challenged Zuckerberg to a literal cage match in June, and the launch of Threads represents a sort of digital cage match.

Why it matters: Threads is not innovative, but it’s smart.

  • Meta has achieved massive success buying up and borrowing ideas from elsewhere. Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram are its most notable successes.
  • Now the playbook is being used to claim a potentially lucrative market from Musk, who’s severely annoyed both users and advertisers since taking ownership of the platform in late 2022.

Driving the news: Just four hours after making the app available in the Apple App Store, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on the app that more than 5 million people had signed up for Threads.

The details: The new app allows existing Instagram users to use their login credentials to log into Threads.

  • As with Instagram, Threads users can follow friends and creators with shared interests — including the accounts and content they already follow on Instagram.
  • Everyone who joins Threads who is under 16 in the U.S. will have their account set to private by default.
  • Thread users can share posts up to 500 characters long, in addition to links, photos, and videos up to 5 minutes in length.

Between the lines: Meta's move is both an admission of defeat — it's not a metaverse play, after all — and a product with a high chance of business success.

  • Threads takes the sales pitch of Twitter's new CEO Linda Yaccarino —  that she's a safe pair of hands for your advertising dollars — and offers the advertisers the ability to target Facebook, Instagram and Threads users under one roof.

By the numbers: Twitter has never been a good business by the standards of other leading platforms and social media sites.

Yes, but: While some will find it convenient to take up Meta's offer to enjoy the same Instagram and Threads account handles, others will prefer to keep work and play separate.

  • Meta isn't planning to launch Threads in Europe — limiting its ability to leverage global scale to squeeze Twitter.
  • Europe is the second most lucrative global market after the U.S., but data sharing between Threads and Instagram creates regulatory issues in the EU.
  • Both Meta and Twitter will continue to struggle with misinformation and election-related issues, including because of layoffs — though Meta has more experience and staff on hand through the 2024 elections.

The intrigue: Many self-appointed Big Tech skeptics and proponents of a decentralized web have already bolted to other start-up Twitter rivals: Mastodon and Blue Sky.

  • While that cutting-edge crowd is unlikely to find Threads appealing, Meta doesn’t need them to turn a profit.

Quick take: Meta is aiming for something in between LinkedIn and Twitter as a place for you to share your views with the world.

  • Watch for zombie accounts: As users figure out which platform they prefer for news and conversation, they may neglect rather than shut down their older profiles.

The bottom line: Twitter was for a few years the global town square. But those days are over.

  • Whatever business success Threads achieves, it’s unlikely to capture that old Twitter zeitgeist.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say that Musk challenged Zuckerberg to a cage match, not the other way around. The story has also been updated with additional details.

Go deeper