Before Zuckerberg launched the world’s most exciting and fastest-growing social media app, he struggled to make Threads relevant. Yes, “Threads from Instagram” was an app that launched in October 2019, but shut down in 2021 following just thousands of downloads and an abysmal performance. Here’s what the original Threads app was all about, why it failed, and more importantly, what it says about Zuckerberg and Meta’s culture of innovation and stealing ideas.
It sure sounds surprising, but not many people will remember Threads from back in the day. I barely remember it too, but it was Instagram’s way of making the network more social again. The team realized that as IG was slowly descending into irrelevance (this was before Reels were a thing), people were mainly using the app to DM each other rather than to actually view content. Nobody was tagging friends in posts anymore – they were simply sharing posts and memes with their close friends, creating a microcosmic network in the messages section rather than in the actual home feed. People loved using IG’s filters too, but instead of mass-publishing their content on stories or on their profile, they were much more comfortable sharing it with 3-4 tight-knit friends instead. Seeing this, Mosseri-led Instagram decided that this was worthy of a new app entirely. An IG without the Insta or the Gram. Just DMs and AR filters… or simply, a Snapchat clone.
Today, Facebook is launching Threads from Instagram, a new camera-first messaging app that helps you stay connected to your close friends. Learn more here: https://t.co/oMgMiKMT6Y pic.twitter.com/GbQzctLu1t
— Instagram (@instagram) October 3, 2019
This Threads app was also tied inextricably to your IG. In a way, it was pretty much a stripped-down version of IG that just had a camera, AR filters, and DMs… exactly like Snapchat. You could chat with friends or other people on IG, and you could use your Instagram’s Close Friends feature to share videos of yourself or stuff around you with your immediate social circle. The app debuted in 2019, but took nearly 6 months to actually catch any momentum. It barely had any users, and had roughly 2.5k ratings on the app store, making it Meta’s worst-performing app. Instagram finally shuttered it in 2021, but little did Mark and Mosseri know that Threads would have its ground-shattering glow-up just 2 years later.
It seems like Zuckerberg knew he wanted to make a microblogging platform back in 2021, and Threads was perfect for this ‘phoenix rebirth’. TechCrunch reported in July of 2021 that Facebook (back when it was still called Facebook) was testing out twitter-like features on some public pages. A year later, Zuckerberg made a joke about acquiring Twitter and was legally forced to buy it. The timing couldn’t be more perfect for Zuckerberg, as he saw Musk slowly running Twitter into the ground. Smelling blood in the water, Meta began building out its Twitter clone in January this year, and just as Musk made an announcement that Twitter was limiting how many posts its users could see per day, Zuckerberg forced the launch of Threads in its ‘new app who dis’ avatar. The Threads app caught on like wildfire (even though it was riddled with quite a few dark design patterns), and currently sits at over 100 million users in a record time of 10 days. To give you a sense of how big a deal that is, Twitter has 500 million users…
While it isn’t clear whether Threads will be able to ride this wave of success and internet dominance (whether people continue using Threads after 1 year is still anyone’s guess), it really does prove that Meta, led by Zuckerberg, has cultivated a reputation for ripping off successful ideas than actually coming up with them. Like every overgrown company (i.e., monopoly), Meta defeats competition either by acquiring, or by stealing. Aside from building Facebook, it’s difficult to think of anything that Zuckerberg has built successfully from scratch. Instagram was acquired in 2012, and Whatsapp and Oculus in 2014. Zuckerberg tried hard to acquire Snapchat too, but after sensing resistance, merely copied the ephemeral ‘Stories’ feature. Reels were introduced in 2020 to combat TikTok, which couldn’t be acquired because it was owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Meta tried hard to launch Internet.Org in third-world countries but faced huge resistance, and even tried and failed at launching Libra Coin, its own crypto-based payment network (also rebranded as Diem). Even their hardware efforts were a flop, with the Portal camera that barely made a dent, the RayBan partnership that seems to have been forgotten, and the Meta smartwatch that never even saw the light of day.
Threads, however, reinforces Meta’s corporate tendency to blatantly copy winning ideas. It’s definitely being touted as the company’s latest success story, but it builds entirely on an existing microblogging platform, which was pretty much ripped off in the process. The name “Threads” isn’t new either, but its personality certainly is…