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Threads dethroning X: out of the frying pan, into the fryer

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    Jaap Stronks

X has all the traits of a zombie: although it appears lively, it is in fact more dead than alive. Staggering around, disease-ridden and toxic, it mostly attracts attention because of all the people running away from it.

Look, having used Twitter almost religiously since 2007, and having amassed about 10,000 followers, I am a little bit sad to having witnessed its descent into toxic bigotry and misinformation. But, like zombies, it should just be put out of its misery.

Threads is the heir apparent

With Twitter sliding into chaos and irrelevance, it hardly remains an open question what service will take its place. Although Mastodon and BlueSky have gained some traction, Meta's Instagram offshoot Threads is the heir apparent, for the following reasons:

  • Winner Takes All: Despite Mastodon and ActivityPub introducing open standards for interoperability, the unique demands of global, real-time status updates mean that ultimately, one corporate-owned platform will likely dominate.
  • Engineering and Scalability: Whereas Mastodon is not designed or technically able to become a singular world-spanning platform, BlueSky lacks the engineering capacity and funding to do so within any reasonable time frame. Meta has the expertise and server infrastructure to pull it off - it was able to open up to Europe without breaking a sweat.
  • Rapid Development: Meta is swiftly enhancing Threads, consistently rolling out new features. Since services like Instagram and WhatsApp originally were acquisitions, Meta demonstrated capability of rapid successful in-house product development is a major contributing factor to Threads's proliferation.
  • Design chops: although the 'for you' tab's algorithm needs an overhaul and the video player is hilariously bad (iOS's built-in video player is far superior, but perhaps limiting in other areas), the general look & feel and functionality is quite polished.
  • Meta's Reformed Image: compared to Elon Musk's development into a cartoonish tech-bro nazi billionaire, Zuck suddenly appears as the responsible adult in the room, and Meta's past transgressions have been largely forgotten.
  • Instagram's Leverage: Threads benefits from its association with Instagram, creating its own network effect
  • Meta's Financial Commitment: Meta is willing and able to spend a fortune on Threads and not worry about making money until it reaches a billion useres, driven by long-term strategy (and perhaps also just to spite Elon Musk).
  • Moderation Strength**: A centralized platform like Threads requires robust moderation. X only has a single Dutch moderator, Meta has 54.Mastodon consists of a decentralised ecosystem allowing each server to develop its own moderation policies, which may ultimately prove to be a superior philosophy, but that is beside the point. In the near to medium-term future, there will be a centralised world-spanning Twitter-like platform that requires an army of content moderators enforcing a single content policy, and Meta is the only company that can pull it off.

What about Mastodon?

While I remain an advocate for Mastodon, the open-source software powering a 'federated', decentralized ecosystem of interconnected server 'instances', it will probably never be as mainstream as Twitter arguably was. But it does not have to be: the underlying ActivityPub protocol that allows for interoperability of Mastodon servers (as well as other types of software services like YouTube and GoodReads alternatives) is hopefully powerful enough to change the world of Twitter-esque status update services for good (Read: Can ActivityPub save the internet?).

Both BlueSky as well as Threads have promised ActivityPub support and Mastodon interoperability (read The Verge's Threads is officially starting to test ActivityPub integration). Now that Threads is sucking most of the oxygen out of the room, it remains to be seen how serious their commitment to anything else but Mark Zuckerberg's personal agenda (which currently seems to be 'kill Twitter just to spite Elon') really is.

If the downfall of Twitter teaches us anything, it is perhaps that a major news and conversation platform should not be controlled by a single corporation, itself ruled by an all-powerful tech-bro billionaire. As the world appears ready to exchange Musk for Zuck, its intent appears to be to not learn that lesson.

Follow me on Threads at @jaapstronks.