A Brief History of Meta’s Threads App

In 2019, Instagram and Facebook launched a standalone messaging app called Threads. It was originally designed to be a sort-of Snapchat group-messaging clone. This was all before Facebook’s big name change and pivot to Meta. Ergo, before Zuckerberg decided to invest in building out the Metaverse. Despite having millions in daily active users, Facebook decided to ultimately shut down Threads:

The app today is ranked No. 214 in the Photo & Video category on the U.S. App Store — an indication of its continued failure to catch on with a broader audience. It’s also rated a middling 3.1 stars across 2,500 reviews as users complain about its usability, layout, missing features and glitches. To date, Threads has seen approximately 13.7 million global installs from across the App Store and Google Play, according to estimates from app intelligence firm Sensor Tower.

This is what it looked like. Half-messenger app. Half-Snapchat clone:

Once Threads disappeared, it was presumed to never return. I figured it was destined for the Silicon Valley graveyard of failed startups/projects (RIP Google Reader). But then, something wild happened. In October of 2022, Elon Musk decided to buy Twitter. This was meaningful because, ever since Twitter has been under Musk’s ownership, he’s basically nosedived the company into oblivion. This has left Twitter extremely vulnerable to competing social networking apps. There have been many cycles of users leaving for these Twitter-clones.

Every decision he’s made has been a kiss of death: marketing, engineering, public relations, human resources, and so on. It’s been a nightmare for former employees, and a horror show contractors. To be blunt, Musk is devoid of compassion, and the first 90 days alone were not good for anyone. Ex-employees are currently in a arbitration lawsuit against Twitter and Musk and many having never received their severance. Lastly, the latest micro-managing efforts from Musk, have essentially broken Twitter.

Instagram’s Threads app has been under development for some time now. At least the public has known about it since early March. Internally, it was understood to be called Project 92. It has an unmistakable design language. It’s very Instagram-esque

From The Verge earlier this month:

One of Meta’s top executives showed employees a preview of the company’s upcoming Twitter competitor during a companywide meeting today that was watched by The Verge.

While Musk has been squandering cash and resources, Zuckerberg has been building. In what appears to be a stroke of serendipity, Meta & Instagram (aka the new Facebook) is launching the new Threads app this week amidst Twitter’s latest troubles.

Threads’ (re)debut is happening just as users flock from Twitter (again) to competitors. But this time, it feels different. It feels more permanent this time around. A lot of users are very done with Twitter. Thousands of people are leaving Twitter behind for Mastodon in part because of Musk’s questionable rate-limiting nonsense. Both Threads and Mastodon are powered by an open-source protocol called ActivityPub. Which essentially makes them interoperable social networks. This interoperability, is not universally celebrated on the fediverse. Personally, I believe this will be good and healthy for the web. But that remains to be proven. This could all go sideways next week. According to reports, your Instagram handle will be your Threads username: @example@threads.net.

This is a huge blow against Twitter. The headwinds are strong for Threads. Twitter has been on a losing streak, and chances are Musk will only make this worse. Instagram even put together a countdown on its site.

It also was briefly on the Google Play Store earlier this week on July 1. It’s gone now, but will presumably be back on the Play Store later this week. Apple’s App Store on the other hand has it listed as a pre-order right now:

What started as one kind of social network clone has become another kind of clone altogether! Who would have thunk. The drama, the suspense! It’s heating up, and I suspect this battle for the new “town square app” is just getting started. I’ll be sitting over here with the popcorn 🍿