Meta's Instagram Threads was a mess at launch

Mark Zuckerberg's Twitter competitor only had to do the bare minimum to attract people who are sick of the Elon Musk circus and it couldn't even do that right.


There's no need to bore anybody with the details of the year that Twitter has had. It was a social network that had many problems, even under co-founder Jack Dorsey. Once it fell into the hands of 52-year-old Tesla CEO and perpetual manchild Elon Musk, all of Twitter's problems amplified a thousandfold while adding an increased sense of daily instability. Twitter is a deeply broken place and the worse it gets, the more that its users are expected to pay real money for a lesser experience. The time is more ripe than ever for a real competitor to step in and siphon away Twitter users, especially given that it has been less than a few days since Musk announced that the popular Tweetdeck would be placed behind a paywall. Surely Mark Zuckerberg, the man behind Facebook and Instagram, could make a half-decent Twitter clone to attract people looking for a way out of the Elon Musk hellscape, couldn't he? Surely the new app Threads, an offshoot of Instagram, would be the answer that users are looking for, right?

The answer, as it turns out, is "No."

Privacy options on Threads

Source: Meta

After initially getting a July 6, 2023 launch date, Threads quietly launched the afternoon prior. Even before its arrival, Threads presented some potential issues. Like Facebook and Instagram, it's a privacy nightmare, feeding users' browsing habits, usage data, contact lists, and other personal information into its beast of an algorithm. To offer an idea of how fed up a large section of the Twitter user base is with its owner's antics, they were willing to roll with this. Threads saw an influx of users within minutes, each undoubtedly hoping for a competent competitor.

Those people did get something that looks a lot like Twitter. It has Retweets (called Reposts) and Likes. It has the ability to post random thoughts, images, and gifs. There are a lot of strangers on the home screen, so once they turn the setting to display only the people they follow, it becomes a great experience. Unfortunately, once the realization sets in that there's no way to set home screens to only show friends and people you follow, Threads begins to fall apart.

Strangers fill up your Threads feed on day one.
What do all of these people have in common? I don't follow any of them and none of them follow me.

What users see on the home screen is what they get. They might see a name they recognize, but more often than not, they'll see a bunch of strangers posting about random nonsense. Many of those strangers will have blue checkmarks on them. They might see brands interacting with their users, which is fine if you're seeking that out, but most people don't. The order of home screen posts makes no sense because none of it is ordered chronologically. It's basically Twitter's "For You" section without the "Following" tab. Literally nobody asked for that.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. If you can see a random stranger posting about whatever on your feed, that also means that random strangers can see your posts, even if they don't follow you. Those looking for a reprieve from the toxic harassment machine that is Twitter will find no quarter on Threads. The problem there is just as bad, if not worse. The solution of "Oh, just go private" is always there, but that's no real answer to an artist, a streamer, or even a high school kid who just wants to escape their miserable reality for a little while. On top of everything, if anybody has buyer's remorse and decides to delete their Threads account, doing so apparently deletes Instagram, too.

Searching for content isn't much better. At the time that this is being written, the Threads search function only allows people to browse for other users. There's no way to search for specific posts or trending topics. There's no real way to gauge what the current hot topic of conversation is or what's happening in the moment. That's going to wreak havoc on sharability, which is a big part of what made Twitter such a phenomenon. Hashtag functionality doesn't appear to be functional, either, which is odd since it works so well on Instagram.

To cap everything off, Threads is doing a lot to copy Twitter, but it has done almost nothing to capitalize on the Instagram brand. While it's possible to retain usernames, other successful Instagram features like Stories and Reels are barely utilized on Threads. It would be handy to take a fun Reel and put it in a series of Thread posts, but there's no quick way to do that. New image posts for Instagram can be cross-posted to Facebook, but they can't be cross-posted to Threads. (Though new Threads can be posted to Instagram posts and Stories.) For as hard as Meta worked to make Threads into a new Twitter, it didn't do enough to incorporate everything that was good about Instagram. Thankfully, some home screen renovations do appear to be coming, but it feels inexcusable that they weren't ready for launch, almost as if Zuckerberg was in a rush to capitalize on Twitter's no-good very bad weekend.

There's a market for "Twitter, but competent." Zuckerberg even said that himself in almost those exact words. Plus, there are some positives to the current Threads experience. The ability to visit a person's Instagram profile from their profile page is a big plus, especially for artists and entrepreneurs. Surprisingly, one of the biggest positives is a lack of ads, which is in sharp contrast to Instagram, which is filled to the brim with them. There's room to grow here, especially as BlueSky remains invite-only and Twitter continues to burn in new ways every day. Still, this was a rough launch and a bad first impression from one of the premier names in social media. As much as there's room for improvement, there's also a lot of room for things to go wrong. Threads gets an "I" for "Incomplete" grade on its handling of harassment, how the service will eventually handle ads, whether people will share posts on the level that they have with Twitter, whether sex workers will be allowed to use the service (nudity is prohibited on Instagram, but not Twitter), or how Meta will address that pesky privacy issue that is keeping it out of the EU entirely for the moment. Will that dreaded Musk scent only grow over time? Wednesday's launch doesn't leave me feeling fully confident.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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