I don’t think that Threads—the new Twitter-like service from Meta—is above critique. It’s noisy, it lacks a lot of features, and there seems to be a lot of desperate land-grabbing going on by various celebrities and brands. You might even say the whole thing feels off—and there is even a fairly academic reason for that feeling. In It’s Not Cancel Culture—It’s A Platform Failure Charlie Warzel reminds us about “context collapse”:
Context collapse occurs when a surfeit of different audiences occupy the same space, and a piece of information intended for one audience finds its way to another—usually an uncharitable one—which then reads said information in the worst possible faith.
We’ve probably all experienced this to some degree—you say something and it gets misunderstood or misconstrued (sometimes understandably!) by an audience that doesn’t have all the context. Anne Helen Petersen uses that concept to explain exactly why The Thread Vibes Are Off:
Twitter was for thoughts, and Instagram is for vibes—and Threads is trying to pull your Instagram feed into a Twitter format. And I’m here to tell you: THE VIBES ARE OFF. […]
What’s happening early on with Threads is that influencers are experiencing their own kind of context collapse, where their vague, sometimes vapid messages are traveling toward a different type of audience. This is pretty much what Threads feels like to me now: a place that’s ostensibly interesting (look, so many people are already here!) but is actually totally boring. It’s “fun,” but definitely not funny.
So, like I said: Threads isn’t above criticism and there’s a lot of work to be done to improve it. But I also think it’s important for the complainers to realize that it’s possible that maybe—just maybe—Threads isn’t for us. And that’s ok. One example is the constant complaints I see (and I have as well!) about the lack of a “following-only” feed, and a lot of “how could they launch without it” incredulousness. However, to that point, Sara Morrison makes this observation in TikTok is confusing by design:
TikTok is the ultimate example of how our digital world is shifting from seemingly limitless possibilities and choice—the internet of my formative years—into a controlled experience that’s optimized to know or decide what we want and then deliver it to us. And TikTok is one of the best examples of this change.
That piece is worth reading in full, but it explains how the chronological feed might be a thing of the past—and not because companies want it, but because user data shows that they want it. This is why posts like Facebook’s Threads is so depressing—which I’ve seen quoted and mentioned a lot in my various feeds—really rubs me the wrong way. It is one big wall of snark about how bad Threads is, how it should die, and how it has no redeeming qualities at all. What’s worse is that I’ve seen lots of product people quote that piece and praise it, which I find really confusing.
Yes, Threads has lots of room for improvement. I find it too chaotic (right now) for what I want in a social network. But if you scroll just a little bit it’s clear to see that people on there are having a blast—so how about we don’t judge anyone and everyone who gets on there! Isn’t having empathy for users and curiosity around certain behaviors everything in product? Shouldn’t we be impressed and interested in what we can learn from how Meta built that product to scale to 10 million users in 24 hours without a hitch?
It’s natural to get riled up about products that mean something to us, but we have to guard against blind spots when it comes to how people who are not like us use the web. It’s ok to not like Threads, but it’s not ok to negate and mock the experience of millions of people who are clearly enjoying the product immensely. Not just because it’s unkind and unnecessary, but also because we’d be losing out on a huge opportunity to learn from how that team executes.
P.S. If you are more of a visual person, here’s a 16-second Youtube video summarizing this post.