On Tuesday, July 11, Zoe Schiffer from Platformer reported that Elon Musk sent an email to Twitter’s employees telling them they needed to ship new and better features for the app “faster than ever.” The notable part of this is not that Musk was driving his remaining overworked employees hard (he’s infamous for that), but that Schiffer posted this news on Threads, the week-old text-first social platform from Meta — an app that has seen the fastest growth of any new social platform in history, reaching 100 million users in just five days.
Threads might be the textbook definition of “minimal viable product.” On it, you can post, repost and like text, photos, and videos, as well as find other users, and … that’s about it. No direct messaging, no chronological timeline, no trending topics, no keyword search, no web interface. Not even support for hashtags. The lack of some of these features may be by design to improve the quality of discourse and make a simpler experience. Regardless, the rise of Threads has apparently had a significant adverse impact on Twitter, whose traffic dropped 5% in the first two days after Threads launched, accelerating their year-to-date traffic decrease of 11%.
And after all this, Musk’s response was to goad his employees to “ship better features.” Fact is, Threads’ best feature is one that Twitter, in its current form, cannot replicate: its vibe.
In the approximately eight months since Elon Musk took over Twitter, the quality of discourse on that app has declined remarkably. Hate speech has increased, users formerly banned under Twitter’s community standards have been allowed back, and it’s even gained the endorsement of the Taliban. Worse, from the standpoint of the value of the site’s utility for the majority of its users, Musk de-verified notable users’ accounts, including those of journalists and policy makers, and instead started selling “verification” to anyone willing to spend $8 a month, making content on the site less trustworthy. In addition, Musk tweaked the algorithm to favor posts from these newly verified users making the “for you” feed and replies under popular tweets far less relevant. Even some of Twitter’s own employees seem to prefer Threads.
In short, every change Musk made to the app after he bought it showed a distinct lack of comprehension as to why people liked using it in the first place. Hence, Threads.
If Threads had been introduced by Meta nine months ago — before Musk’s acquisition of Twitter — it would have been laughed off the internet, especially in its current feature-sparse form. But it’s clear people have been craving something closer to Twitter’s old vibe. So much so that Threads became the most rapidly downloaded app in history in spite of its feature deficiency. Musk can bluster and threaten Meta all he wants over their “copying” of his platform (and, of course, it is a copy of Twitter), but the fact is, the only reason Threads is a smash success is because of the decisions Musk has made at Twitter.
Most ominously for Musk and his investors is that Threads is only going to get better while Twitter can only get worse — unless he backtracks on just about every move he’s made since buying the app.
It’s also likely that marketers will be much more willing to embrace Threads than they ever were Twitter, even before Musk’s ownership. Meta’s advertising platform allows for a much more granular targeting of consumers, resulting in better ad performance and ROI. Twitter’s main draw for advertisers was that its user base, while always much smaller than Facebook’s or Instagram’s, was considered to be the most influential. Brands ran promotions there in spite of the lack of advanced targeting capabilities. But as that cachet of influence wanes with more and more people (and their conversations) moving to Threads, it’s hard to see how Twitter will be able to woo top-tier brands to spend on its essentially unmoderated platform.
All that said, it seems unlikely that Twitter will ever go out of business. It’s owned by the richest man in the world, who also sometimes seems like he has the world’s biggest ego. It’s doubtful that he’d allow the company to fail, if only to save face. The biggest threat represented by Threads is that Twitter will lose its previously unchallenged place in our information culture.
Musk made Twitter weak and wounded. Meta, like any apex predator, took advantage of that situation. It’s doubtful Twitter will ever fully recover.