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All the questions we still have about Threads, Meta’s Twitter killer

Threads, Meta’s text-based Twitter rival, is finally out in the world (most of it, anyway). Compared with other would-be Twitter challengers, Threads has absolutely exploded. By the morning after its launch, the Instagram offshoot had already attracted more than 30 million new sign-ups, according to Mark Zuckerberg.

The momentum seems to have spooked Elon Musk, whose personal lawyer has reportedly threatened to sue Meta over unspecified “trade secrets.” But while the Meta vs. Twitter rivalry continues to play out, there are still some major questions about the new platform and how Meta intends to run it.

Why the relentless focus on brands and influencers?

It’s no secret that Meta began testing Threads with a relatively small group of creators and celebrities ahead of its official launch. The group provided some early feedback to the company, and helped ensure that when the floodgates did eventually open, new users were greeted with more than an empty feed.

The ploy worked. New Threads users found a lively feed filled with posts upon joining. But it’s also led to the main feed feeling a bit… underwhelming. Finding posts from friends, particularly recent posts, can be difficult as the current feed algorithm seems to heavily favor influencers, celebrities, brands and other higher profile accounts. Which leads us to..

What about a non-algorithmic feed?

If you know anything about Twitter, it’s that the original, reverse chronological feed is sacred to many longtime users. The same is true in some corners of Instagram, which brought back its chronological feed last year following a five-year hiatus.

So it can feel a bit jarring that Threads currently has a single algorithmic feed that seems to lean quite heavily on recommended posts from accounts you’re not already following. Not only is there no chronological feed, but there’s no way to view a feed of posts from only accounts you follow (though some have devised a workaround by messing with the app’s notification settings.)

Both Instagram head Adam Mosseri and Zuckerberg have since said that a “following” feed — that is a feed dedicated solely to accounts you follow — is in the works. Mosseri also confirmed there would be a chronological option. That should help address the “garbage hose” problem, as Slate’s Alex Kirshner described the current algorithmic feed.

How will Threads tie into the broader Fediverse?

One of the more intriguing aspects of Threads is Meta’s promise to integrate ActivityPub, the open-source protocol that powers Mastodon and other decentralized platforms that make up the “Fediverse.”

Mosseri told The Verge that Threads launched without ActivityPub due to the complexity involved. “It requires a bunch more work,” he said. But the company seems committed to the idea.

In its announcement, the company suggested it was all-in on the open standard, and what it represents for the future of social networks. “Our vision is that people using compatible apps will be able to follow and interact with people on Threads without having a Threads account, and vice versa, ushering in a new era of diverse and interconnected networks,” Meta wrote.

But the prospect of eventual Fediverse integration raises all kinds of new questions as well. How will the app, which is currently an offshoot of Instagram, handle interoperability with other federated platforms? Right now, Threads requires an Instagram account, which is neither decentralized or open-source, much less compatible with ActivityPub. Users can’t even delete their Threads account without also deleting their Instagram. So how will Threads users take their audience with them if they decide to leave? (Even on Mastodon, the process is far from simple.)

How will people on the thousands of Mastodon servers view and interact with posts on Threads? Mastodon CEO Eugen Rochko has suggested it will be up to individual server admins to enable compatibility, but it’s still far from clear how this functionality would work. And that doesn’t address what might be possible on other platforms that pledged to support ActivityPub, like Tumblr and Flipboard, which may be less enthused about their platforms’ content being accessible a Meta-owned service.

Fediverse support also raises all kinds of questions about content moderation. Officially, Threads has the same community guidelines as Instagram, but federated platforms are free to set their own standards and norms. How will Meta keep content from other platforms that goes against its rules from Threads once posts are interoperable?

What about content moderation?

Speaking of content moderation, Meta hasn’t really addressed how it plans to scale its content moderation operation to handle the sudden influx of new users to a brand new platform. Up to now, the company has been clear that Instagram’s existing community guidelines apply on Threads and that it’s hoping to foster a more “positive” environment.

But it’s unclear how the company is handling enforcement internally. And as much as Meta execs try to emphasize the good vibes, history has taught us that where there are millions of users there will inevitably be bad actors spreading hate speech, misinformation and all the familiar ills of giant social media platforms.

For now, it seems like Threads is largely relying on Instagram’s moderation infrastructure. For example, the app will warn you before attempting to follow a user that’s repeatedly shared misinformation. The company is also pushing users to carry over their block, restrict and word filtering settings from Instagram. But with more than 95 million posts on its first day of existence, Threads will at some point likely need its own moderation resources.

Where are all the… other features?

More immediately, the most pressing question for most Threads users is when Meta will start adding a bunch of basic features that could make Threads more functionally like Twitter and other services. For now, many have raised the absence of a number of basic capabilities.

Direct Messages: Unlike Twitter and Instagram, Threads has no private messaging. And so far, it’s unclear if that could change. Mosseri seems cautious about the idea, telling The Verge he was hesitant to contribute to “inbox fatigue.”

Web interface: For a lot of Twitter power users, one of the more frustrating aspects of Threads is the lack of a proper web interface. For now, you can manually view Threads posts by navigating to user’s public profiles, but there’s no way to view your feed or interact with posts. Here, again, Mosseri says that’s in the works. “The priority is the mobile apps, but we are working on www,” he wrote.

Search and hashtags: While Threads makes it easy enough to find people from your existing social graph, Threads doesn’t allow you to search posts or even use basic filtering tools like hashtags.

Accessibility: Unfortunately, as with so many other new platforms, Threads so far has ignored some basic accessibility features. There’s no support for alt text for photos, for example, which feels like a pretty glaring omission given Threads ties to Instagram.

Ads: Most users (brands, aside) probably aren’t clamoring for ads in their new feeds. But the launch of Threads has prompted questions about what Meta’s eventual plan for advertising is. According to Zuckerberg, the ads won’t be coming any time soon. “Our approach will be the same as all our other products: make the product work well first, then see if we can get it on a clear path to 1 billion people, and only then think about monetization at that point,” he wrote on Threads.

While we don’t know exactly which features Meta is prioritizing first, it seems safe to say we won’t have to wait too long for at least some of these features. One advantage Threads has over many of its upstart competitors is that Meta has infinitely more engineers it can dedicate to these issues. And new features will be key if the company wants Threads to be a long term success and not just a novelty.

Update July 7th, 2023, 9:05 AM PT: This story has been updated to note Adam Mosseri confirmed the company is working on a chronological feed for Threads.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/all-the-questions-we-still-have-about-threads-153059430.html?src=rss

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