Twitter has long been ripe for disruption. Many people have left Twitter to complain or protest how bad it has become. There were plenty of opportunities for a decentralized social network that truly empowered its users to challenge Twitter. And indeed, quite a few attempts have been made. But so far nothing has come close to matching Twitter.
But now, thanks to widespread dissatisfaction with Elon Musk’s excesses of power, a Twitter rival is finally here. Moreover, it was not made by some crypto asset (virtual currency) native startup. Meta, which is also ruled by billionaires with excessive power, worked on it. Yet Threads has amassed 100 million users in less than a week.
Painfully obvious, but there is a lesson here. When it comes to social media, at least social media at scale, people ultimately value network effects and ease of use. That’s all. Certainly, data privacy, better discussion, protection of “free speech” (whatever that means exactly), greater ownership of one’s content, etc. would be nice. However, such concerns are not yet a priority.
Momentum Unmatched by Other Competitors
Before we proceed, let’s make one thing clear. Threads won’t necessarily be hugely successful. Platforms sometimes pop up and then get forgotten. Remember Clubhouse?
But Threads hit 100 million users in five days, and that number could still grow. Rival startups don’t have that momentum. Mastodon is estimated to have about 2 million monthly active users. Nostr, a decentralized social media protocol, has a hard-to-find exact number, but according to decentralized social network Damus, estimates are between 500,000 and 1 million people based on downloads of its iOS app Damus and Android app Amethyst.
Bluesky, which is invite-only, had about 50,000 users at the end of April, and at least 58,000 new people have signed up since then. Those numbers aren’t bad, but we’re talking about relatively successful competitors, not rivals you’ve never heard of.
Threads’ current momentum basically stems from its integration with Instagram, which boasts over 2 billion monthly active users. So the user already exists.
People have been yearning for smaller, more intimate platforms for years, but they are often hooked on the potential for virality. I’ve personally experienced this myself as part of a team trying to develop a small, intimate platform. The finished product was far from perfect, but I experienced firsthand how difficult it would be for newcomers to compete with Twitter and Facebook’s sheer numbers.
Threads have another key feature. If you’re already an Instagram user, onboarding is easy. You don’t have to establish a whole new identity, and even those who follow you on Instagram can migrate to Threads.
Threads’ early success is a lesson not only for social media startups, but also for cryptocurrencies chasing the elusive goal of “mainstream adoption.” Currencies, like social media, only really work when enough people use them.
Here are some important lessons learned.
At least initially, you may have to work with larger organizations.
In other words, go where people are. That’s why people get excited about “institutional penetration” and the potential of Bitcoin ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds). Giving people a gateway to crypto through well-known and trusted brands with established customer bases makes sense at this point.
That’s why Polygon signed a deal with Instagram, for example. While this may not be a one-size-fits-all solution and may take away some of the fun and uniqueness of crypto, there is clearly a rationale behind such strategic alliances.
Onboarding and usability matter.
And it’s pretty important. This seems too obvious, but it’s worth repeating, given that many cryptocurrency products remain obscure and difficult to use.
It doesn’t matter how visionary a product has a roadmap for reshaping society if the user experience (UX) is terrible or if people have to go through complicated steps to create an account.
It also means that, for better or worse, we will need a centralized cryptocurrency exchange and a government to establish a clear regulatory framework for it. Sure, these centralized exchanges may be less secure and philosophically purer than DeFi, but they provide a familiar gateway for more mainstream audiences.
People care about data privacy and decentralization, but not so much.
That’s not to say data privacy isn’t important. Of course it’s important. Decentralization is also attractive. But such lofty goals alone are not enough. Without network effects and ease of use, you can’t push your product into the mainstream. That’s the main lesson to be learned from Threads’ spectacular five days.
Emily Parker: Executive Director of Global Content at CoinDesk.
｜Translation and editing: Akiko Yamaguchi, Takayuki Masuda
｜Image: rafapress / Shutterstock.com
｜Original: Why Threads Got 100 Million Users When Other Twitter Rivals Could Not