From rise to fall: Where did Threads go wrong?

17 Aug 2023

Image: © Diego/

After a hugely successful launch, the app’s user base has plummeted in a short space of time, as the ‘Twitter killer’ has failed to get new features or an identity of its own.

It appears the idea of Threads usurping X – formerly known as Twitter – has died down in recent weeks.

The Instagram-linked app saw rapid success initially, surpassing 100m users less than five days after its release, and turning it into one of the most successful launches of all time. X’s user base appeared to be “tanking” during the same period.

Threads had a number of benefits supporting its launch, including being created by a well-known social media company. The app is also linked to Instagram, which has a massive user base of roughly 1.2bn accounts. This gave the new app an easy way to grow quickly, as Instagram users could quickly create a Threads account using their Instagram profile.

But now it appears the hype has died down and the user base of Threads has collapsed to a fraction of its former size. Analytics firms claim the app’s daily active users dropped by more than 80pc by 4 August.

Threads is clearly struggling with user retention, but how has the app fallen so far after experiencing one of the most successful launches in history?

Lack of features

It wasn’t a surprise when Threads came out, as Meta confirmed earlier in the year that it was working on a “decentralised social media platform” to provide an alternative app to Twitter.

The launch date was predicted to be during the summer, but the app suddenly popped up on app stores in early July. It was speculated that Meta may have released Threads early to capitalise on a chaotic period for X – the company was dealing with a backlash for limiting the number of posts accounts could see in a day.

Regardless, it soon became clear that Threads still needed a lot of work to be comparable to X, receiving updates to get rather basic features that already exist on rival platforms.

For example, on 26 July, Threads received a batch of user-requested features such as the ability to filter posts based on who a user is following, or being able to translate the language of a post. Both of these features have already existed on X for some time.

Boring content

X has been criticised in recent months for the direction it has taken under the leadership of Elon Musk. The platform has had chaotic periods since Musk’s takeover, with a reported rise in hate speech and disinformation.

But even before this takeover, X – when it was known as Twitter – had a reputation for emotional, aggressive conversations, along with trolls and bots swarming conversations.

Threads advertised itself as an alternative to this type of social media environment. Instagram head Adam Mosseri previously said that the goal of Threads was to create a place for those that are “interested in a less angry place for conversations” than X.

“Politics and hard news are inevitably going to show up on Threads – they have on Instagram as well to some extent – but we’re not going to do anything to encourage those verticals,” Mosseri said.

But while focusing on “kindness” – as Mark Zuckerberg claimed – is a noble goal, it can be difficult to draw attention to an app based on this concept alone. In an opinion piece on The Guardian, Siva Vaidhyanathan described Threads as bland, boring and “destined to fail”.

While focusing on what not to be, it seems Threads failed to specify what its trying to be in a crowded, competitive environment. This identity issue isn’t helped by the fact it is essentially a side app on Instagram. A lack of features and bland content appear to be key reasons that user retention is so low.

Failure to expand

While Threads had a rapid rise, it never launched in the EU, denying the app access to hundreds of millions of potential users.

It is believed the reason for this is due to EU data laws and the data Threads collects from its users. In the days leading up to the launch, some people criticised Threads for the amount of data it takes.

Meta and its affiliated apps have faced multiple court cases and various fines in the EU due to GDPR breaches. In July, the EU’s top court ruled against Meta’s defence for its advertising practices. The ruling could give more authority to EU watchdogs to investigate future GDPR breaches.

It remains unclear if Threads will ever launch in Ireland or the EU, as regulatory issues will likely persist for Meta in the future. New regulation in the EU such as the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act will present new challenges for companies like Meta.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic