Instagram launched its new social media app Threads on 5 July this year. Within just a few days, after ChatGPT, it was the fastest-growing app ever with a whopping 70 million users! Since then, Threads has passed the 105 million mark and already has a fifth of the weekly active X users. How can that be? Is Threads so revolutionary or is Instagram mainly benefiting from the turmoil at X, the former Twitter?
Do we really need yet another social network? Apparently we do if the meteoric rise of Threads is to be believed. Moreover, the app got a huge boost as it was launched by Instagram, which has over two billion users. New users can immediately log in with their Instagram account and simultaneously move their personal Instagram network with them.
Another factor is that X (popularly still called Twitter) has been much in disrepute since its acquisition by Elon Musk. Especially after the recent name change and changes to its usage rules and terms and conditions. Advertisers are running away because of Musk’s political and social statements, third-party apps quit because they suddenly had to pay for the Twitter API, and even viewing tweets was restricted.
A perfect time to launch Threads, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg must have thought. Threads was initially dismissed as an opportunistic Twitter-clone, but it turns out the app has been in development since 2019. In addition, Threads is much more interesting under the bonnet than you might suspect. You could even see it as one of the most significant shifts in the social media landscape over the past 15 years.
Open and ‘portable’ social network
So what makes Threads so special or innovative? Right now, it is mainly the fact that the platform is positioned as a
social network that exercises strict control over things like hate speech, political discussions and discrimination. In this day and age, this is very welcome, even if one might question whether it will succeed in practice. After all, Meta, the parent company of Instagram, Facebook and Threads, does not have the best credentials in this area, apart from all the privacy scandals.
The most innovative thing about Threads is that the platform is going to support ActivityPub and the Fediverse in the near future. These are new standards for open and interoperable social networks, which have the potential to shape the future of social networks and the internet.
Simply put, these so-called Fediverse platforms mean that you own your own social network identity, your content and your contacts. This allows you to easily switch platforms without having to create another identity or rebuild your content and contacts. This is certainly an innovative way of working in today’s social media landscape, where, as a user, you all have to maintain different networks and identities and content is largely tied to the platform.
Dutch government uses Mastodon
Another important aspect of Fediverse platforms is that they do not depend on one central server. They consist of a network of interconnected (federated) servers used for social networks, microblogs, blogs and websites. This is also where the name comes from: a contraction of ‘federated’ and ‘universe’. On a Fediverse server, you can create an identity, which you can then use on all the different platforms or servers thanks to the open ActivityPub protocol, even on your own server, if you want.
Other Fediverse platforms include WordPress and Mastodon. WordPress we all know as the most popular open source CMS system in the world. Mastodon is not as well known, but that is likely to change soon. This open source counterpart of X has gained increasing support among tech users in recent years, especially because of all the privacy scandals at other platforms and the turmoil at X.
The Dutch government, too, now sees the potential of this open social network. It has recently set up its own Mastodon server, with which the Dutch tax authorities, among others, are running a pilot. It also suits the government better not to rely on Threads, an app from Meta, an American company that became extremely successful by collecting user data to optimize ad sales and engagement. Partly because of these privacy issues, you cannot officially install the Threads app in the Netherlands yet. And users in the EU who installed the app manually have recently been banned from posting.
Will we go for Threads or Mastodon?
Any company active on social networks will now be wondering: should I create a Threads account and secure my name as soon as possible? There is certainly no harm in doing so. After all, Threads is fast becoming one of the biggest new social networks. Above all, gain experience with it, stay informed and, as a brand or company, show that you are following the latest developments.
The advantage of Threads’ announced ActivityPub support is that you can always eventually decide to move your Fediverse identity, your social network and your content to another platform. Since recently, it’s possible to verify a link to your Threads profile on Mastodon. But of course, you can also opt for the ‘open’ route straight away with Mastodon. Here you may not find the large international user base of Threads, but it does offer opportunities to build your own local community in a privacy-friendly way and become part of the Fediverse directly!