Threads have had initial success, but may not last

A major tech company with billions of users is offering a new social network. With the popularity and scale of its products, the company aims to successfully create a new social platform. By doing so, it also plans to crush a leading competitor’s app.

If this sounds like Instagram’s new app Threads and its crackdown on rival Twitter, think again. It was 2011 and Google launched Google+, a social network whose option was “The end of Facebook”. Google promoted the new platform to many users who relied on its search engine and other products, and Google+ expanded to more than 90 million users in its first year.

But in 2018, Google+ was relegated to the ashes of history. Despite the Internet search giant’s large audience, its social network failed to catch on as people continued to use Facebook and later Instagram and other social networking applications in large numbers.

Throughout the history of Silicon Valley, big tech companies have become big tech companies by using their size as a built-in advantage. But, as Google+ proves, sheer size doesn’t guarantee success in the volatile and complex social media market.

That’s the challenge Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, now faces as he tries to ditch Twitter and make Threads the leading app for real-time public conversations. If the history of technology is any guide, size and scale are strong foundations, but ultimately they can only go so far.

What comes after is very difficult. Zuckerberg needs people to find friends and influencers in threads as casually and sometimes whimsically as Twitter has done. Make sure threads are not filled with spam or scammers. You need to be patient while app updates are ready.

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In short, texts need to be attractive enough to keep users coming back again and again.

„If you launch a gimmicky app or something that doesn’t have all the features yet, it can backfire and a lot of people will go back to where they came from,” said Eric Seifert, an independent mobile phone analyst who closely follows Meta’s apps.

So far, Threads looks like an instant hit. Within hours of the app’s launch on July 5, Zuckerberg said 10 million people had signed up for the threads. On Monday, it already had 100 million. It was the first app to do so in that period, surpassing the ChatGPT chatbot with 100 million users within two months of its launch, according to analytics firm Similarweb.

Seufert called the numbers the texts amassed „really impressive and unprecedented.”

Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, seems uncomfortable about the threads push. With 100 million people, Threads is fast approaching some of the latest public user numbers for Twitter, which revealed that it had 237.8 million daily users as of July 2022, four months before Musk bought the company and took it private.

Musk has taken action in this matter. The same day Threads was officially released, Twitter threatened to sue Meta over the new app. On Sunday, Musk called Zuckerberg a „cuckold” on Twitter. He then challenged Zuckerberg to a contest to measure a specific body part and compare which was bigger. Zuckerberg did not respond.

(Before Threads was announced, Musk separately challenged Zuckerberg to a “cage fight.”)

What Musk lacks on Twitter, Zuckerberg has a lot in the meta: massive audiences. More than 3 billion users visit Zuckerberg’s list of apps regularly, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.

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Zuckerberg has a lot of experience with the app’s millions of users using others. In 2014For example, it removed Facebook’s private messaging service from the social network’s app and forced people to download another app called Messenger to continue using the service.

Threads are now closely linked to Instagram. Users must have an Instagram account to register. They can import their entire list of Instagram followers into threads with a single tap on the screen, saving them from searching for new people to follow on the service.

On Monday, Zuckerberg hinted that more could be done to develop the threads. It still „doesn’t run a lot of ads” for the app, he wrote in a post about Threads.

Some users have wondered why Threads debuted without some of the basic features used on Instagram, such as a search feature that allows people to browse popular tags.

„There are a lot of features that triads don’t take off because of the design to keep their brand safe” and minimize controversy early on, said tech industry veteran and author Anil Dash. „What long-term effect does that have on interest in the network?”

Adam Moseri, head of Instagram, mentioned in a Threads post earlier this week that he has a running list of new features people want to see added to the app. „They tell me, 'Make it work, make it better, make it grow’. I promise we will make the application better”, he added.

However, adding a new application to a company’s existing products will eventually wear them out.

In 2011, after Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and CEO at the time, cloned Facebook with Google+, users quickly became bored with the novelty of the new social network and stopped using it. Some saw Google+ as something forced upon them when trying to access their Gmail.

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A former Google employee described the product as “Based on fear”, was created in response to Facebook and without a clear vision of why people should use it instead of a competing network. In a study of what went wrong, a former Google user wrote Google+ is primarily defined by „what it’s not, ie Facebook.”

Of course, Zuckerberg could use a Bill Gates-style strategy for texts. Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft, built his empire on Windows, the operating system that powered a generation of personal computers that later grew to crush competitors.

As Windows dominated personal computers, Gates was widely known to bundle other products with software for free. When he did that in 1995 by adding the Internet Explorer browser to Windows, what he achieved was that Internet Explorer became the default web browser on millions of computers, surpassing Netscape in just four years.

However, Gates fell victim to this trick. In 1998, the Department of Justice sued Microsoft for unfairly using Windows’ market power to stifle competition. In 2000, a federal judge ruled against Gates’ company, saying that Microsoft had put „an oppressive thumb on the fortunes of the competition.”

Microsoft later signed a contract with the government and agreed to provide concessions.

Mike Isaac is a technology reporter and editor The Battle for Uber: Unbridled Ambition, about the dramatic rise and fall of a passenger transportation company, is on the bestseller list. He regularly covers Facebook and Silicon Valley, and is based in the Times’ San Francisco bureau. @Mike IsaacFacebook

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