Threads is Thinking and Acting More in Real Time

Which is great, but one year in, what needles Threads?
Adam Mosseri on the first year of Threads
With more than 175 million monthly users, Meta has its sights set on overtaking Twitter

Just ahead of hitting its first birthday (tomorrow, one day after America), Meta decided it would do some press highlighting a rather arbitrary number: 175M MAUs. Yes, it's a big number. And yes, it's certainly just the closest big number they can tout so close to the birthday. But Meta has traditionally worked in DAUs for years and years now (though more recently they've shifted to DAP – Daily Active People – their own made-up metric which is similar but aims to obfuscate the rise and fall of individual apps/services while aggregating them all together). Presumably the DAU/DAP number isn't nearly as impressive or Meta would have shared that. Regardless, the MAU number is growing, which is good to see. Even if it's still largely being driven by Instagram integration, as Alex Heath reports. And the metric is decidedly less weasel-y than Xitter's preferred usage metrics, which seem to shift all the time, and are currently set to "user seconds".

Anyway, Casey Newton got a chance to ask Instagram chief Adam Mosseri some actual questions about Threads beyond the vanity metrics. Beyond being seemingly annoyed that some people were quick to count Threads out after its initial surge and then reported plateau of usage, Mosseri had some good answers about iterative product development and didn't shy away from directly stating that they're still going after The Artist Formerly Known as Twitter.

His takes on political content remains controversial in some camps – basically, Meta is fine hosting the content and serving it up if you follow accounts that trade in such topics, but they don't want to promote it as they do with other content if you don't follow such accounts. The stance is half annoying and half reasonable. But I still worry it bleeds over into what is holding Threads back in terms of being a true real-time information network, which is what I want, even if Meta's data says no one else wants that. Anyway, this was good to hear/read:

Casey Newton: But I'm curious, have you been thinking about these changes for a long time? Or was there some point over the past year where that thought crystallized? Like, “we want people to be here talking about stuff in real time, so let's make stuff for those people specifically.”

Adam Mosseri: We were always more interested in real time than I think our communications reflected. But we definitely have become more interested in real time the longer we've been involved. And we could definitely drive more engagement, more time per person, more impressions per day per person, if we focused less on real time.

But we intentionally focus way more on real time in the ranking for Threads than we do on Instagram. Because we think that if we really want to be the best place to share commentary on what's happening in the world, that we need to do that. And we want to differentiate from Instagram. So yes, we've become more interested in real time over the last year, but we were always more indexed on it on Threads than we were on Instagram.

That's Mosseri saying that the way they grew Instagram (and Facebook itself before that) was not focusing on real time, but other, more social-glue features. But they've now realized that there are other reasons to do real time, just from an overall product direction and framing perspective. I wrote about this need to focus on real time (user growth data be damned) back in May:

While that is Xitter most of the time these days, it remains king when there's a breaking news story happening. Like the aforementioned Scottie Scheffler saga. Or just a few days ago, the President of Iran's helicopter crashing (after a search that unfolded in real time, he, along with others, were eventually declared to have died in the crash). Again, you would never have known anything had happened yesterday if you loaded up Threads.

Perhaps I'm just not following the right accounts. Perhaps. But the problem seems to be more about Meta not wanting to boost those accounts anyway. And I do follow some accounts that would usually serve up such real time news, either they're not doing it because they know the Threads algo doesn't want such content. Or, more likely, it's going to be served to me 24 hours later.

Holidays like Mothers Day highlight the latter issue. With Threads, you literally re-live all the joy and well-wishing of such a holiday 24 hours after it happened. It's really weird. And it makes sports content (even outside of players arrests) just garbage to follow. It's a waste of time. If I care enough about a team/game to follow them, I already know the outcome. I don't need score updates pushed at me a day later. But this is exactly what Threads does. Over and over again.

It's not only quite annoying, it makes me concerned that Meta doesn't really know what it has on their hands here. Those hands only seem to care about things that have worked in the past for their other networks. And the data will point the way, second-order effects be damned. What I'm saying is that it's the intangibles that made Twitter, Twitter. And Threads needs to wake up.

Again, these comments suggest they're waking up to this reality. And, honestly (but anecdotally), Threads has seemed better in the past many weeks when it comes to following things in real time, such as the Euros soccer tournament.

Mosseri goes on to talk about the migration away from its Instagram beginnings (and graph) over time as Threads becomes more of its own thing. Also good. I think it was smart and effective to start by building this both on top of and tangential to IG, but they're obviously really different products with completely different natural graphs. And the efforts to extend Threads into the "Fediverse" will only continue the service down that path – though it sounds like that's a huge pain in the ass (as it seems to be with Ghost as well – but potentially still worth it!).

The focus on replies remains compelling and smart for Threads:

That said, we do care about reach, we do try to grow reach. My advice is — and I think what a lot of people don't realize, because a lot of people are coming over from Instagram — they don't realize how important the reply game is. If you're really trying to grow your presence, you should reply much more than you post. And the sum of all your replies is about as valuable as the sum of all the value of all your posts.

When people treat it, like, I'm just going to post and then move on with my day and then post again in a couple days and move on with my day — that's not what it's designed for. If it was for that, we wouldn't have built it as a separate app — we would have built it in Instagram. But we built it so that the reply was as important as the original post — so that you could facilitate, when you're lucky, these great conversations, which by the way helps with discovery.

Threads clearly has had a focus on surfacing replies from the get-go, and it adds a layer that's different from Xitter. What's weird to me though is that while it should make the network feel more alive, often when I load it up, it still feels rather stale to me. I honestly don't know what it is, just a feeling when you compare the two. Again, as I wrote back in May:

More generally, loading up Threads usually just feels dead. It feels like a stale network where the same post is always at the top of my feed unless I reload. I know this is the opposite of a problem that Twitter and other networks including Instagram used to have. But they've veered too far in the cautious direction.

If Xitter is like a crazy uncle on crystal meth, Threads is like an out-to-lunch aunt who hasn’t read a newspaper in weeks.

It's one of those things that's hard to describe, but even right now, loading up the two, Xitter feels more "alive" than Threads. Perhaps it's as simple as the aforementioned real-time elements – or that so much of Xitter now seems solely based around real-time (and often ripped off) memes – but Threads is more like a lazy river versus Xitter's frenzied white water rapids.

Lists might help! And Mosseri confirms they're at least evaluating those...

One more thing: one "feature" that will be coming at some point: ads. And perhaps "sooner rather than later", reports Kurt Wagner who also spoke to Mosseri. While I'd rather pay to not see them, I think that's fine as long as it keeps Meta focused on Threads as it gains the ability to actually add to their bottom line...

One less thing: surprisingly not mentioned in any of the press around the anniversary/made-up milestone: AI. I've been surprised from day one that Meta wasn't doing something here with generative AI. Like, you know, the obvious thing: putting a 'Meta AI' button in the compose window, either to transform your text and/or generate an image based on your text. I know that there's some risk involved, but come on, live a little, Meta. We have the capability live inside of the far larger WhatsApp (though for non-public sharing, of course). Let Llama loose on Threads, I say!

Without Real Time Information, Threads is Pointless
Unleash the feeds