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First thoughts about Threads

Meta’s new social network is interesting: an obvious strategic shot at Twitter just as that network is running into trouble, as well as a way to iterate on its aging Facebook property. To that end, it makes sense that Meta would piggyback on the fediverse of independent social networks that interconnect through the open ActivityPub protocol, and I’m genuinely very excited to see it take that leap. Meta is already the closed social networking top dog by a long shot, and by embracing Mastodon et al, it puts itself in a position of working with the open web to compete with Twitter instead of battling with both entities. For perhaps the first time ever, it also aligns Meta with the open web.

By working with Instagram’s accounts and social graph, and concentrating on one form factor, it gets a lot right that other decentralized social networks haven’t managed yet. There’s no waitlist or complicated registration procedure to figure out: if you’re on Instagram, you hit a single button and you’re set up.

The feed starts off by showing you content from influencers and people you’re already friends with on Instagram, bypassing the cold start problem that many social networks suffer from. The more people you follow on Threads, the more the feed seamlessly segues into content from people you follow. Like Instagram, there’s always some new stuff in there, and there’s no way to get to a chronological feed. The algorithm abides. I hate algorithmic feeds, and I find this one somewhere between annoying and maddening. I’ve found myself muting brands with wild abandon, but I recognize that I’m not the target audience — I can see how this would be more accessible for more casual users. Crucially, though, once federation is launched I’ll be able to access Threads users from the social networking interface of my choice — a huge advantage over any other mainstream social networking platform, and a way to support power users without having to explicitly build for them.

It’s fairly easy to find existing friends and people you’re interested in, and there’s a great inline “add friend” option as you see new folks pass through the feed. This isn’t an entirely new mechanism - Instagram has this, and we even built it into Elgg twenty years ago - but it’s noticeably easier than Mastodon in particular.

The content in my feed is less cerebral and much friendlier than I get on Mastodon, which probably makes it more accessible. Of course, as soon as federation launches, I’ll be able to follow folks on Threads from my Mastodon profile and vice versa. This is a boon for the fediverse overall: Threads will bring the celebrities, while Mastodon will bring the academics and activists. The net result will be a mix of everything and everyone, with a choice of user interfaces and host services, in a way that a closed social network could never manage.

Because the goal is, in effect, to grow a bigger pie for this kind of service, I think Meta would be wise to think about how to help build an ecosystem of interoperable tools and services. Assuming Threads takes off, ActivityPub will be the way social networks interoperate for at least the next decade and the majority of ActivityPub profiles will be Meta-hosted. Given this, providing an easy to use SDK, potentially an AWS-like cloud service to make it as easy as possible to build new apps on top of the protocol, and some funding would be a great way to create developer leverage and differentiate themselves from Twitter’s extortionate API pricing. (If Meta doesn’t do this, by the way, this would make an amazing startup for someone else. Hell, I’d gladly talk to investors myself about building this.)

All in: I don’t hate it. Despite the gnashing of teeth in the fediverse about Meta’s arrival, if Threads implements ActivityPub cleanly I think it’s actually going to be a decent addition. It may even be a boon to the whole open social web that validates the space and creates a stronger ecosystem of developers and platforms. Imagine that.

A screenshot from Meta's new Threads app

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