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Meta's Threads debut solved the chicken-or-egg problem plaguing new social startups

Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert   

Meta's Threads debut solved the chicken-or-egg problem plaguing new social startups
  • Last week, Meta launched its latest social media venture, a Twitter alternative called Threads.
  • New accounts can easily migrate their data from Instagram, so Threads has a built-in user base.

For social media start-ups, attracting an audience is crucial to scaling a new product — but it can be near impossible to lure loyal users away from other platforms. Meta's Threads doesn't have that problem.

Launched July 5, the new microblogging site, touted as a brand-friendly alternative to Twitter, is leveraging Meta's existing reach to attract users from other platforms it owns.

New Threads accounts can easily migrate their information from Instagram, sharing their account data and username between the platforms. The ease of use drove more than 10 million people to sign up for the new site within the first hours of its launch, CBS News reported Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.

Representatives for Meta did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Threads answers the big question that social start-ups like BlueSky and Mastodon have to ask themselves, Alexis Ohanian, cofounder of Reddit, said in a video posted to Threads on Friday: "Why should a creator who has this sunk cost of all the time spent creating all this following all this content on one platform move to another one? For these new ones there's a serious cold start problem."

Representatives for Ohanian did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

The 'cold start' problem

For new social media companies, reaching a "critical mass" of new users can be a challenge, Ohanian said, because without a wide enough audience, creators — who themselves draw in new eyes — are unlikely to sign up in the first place.

"If there's no audience, it's hard to get the creators — a chicken-egg problem," Ohanian said. "Now, Instagram has the audience and has the creators. Overnight, it was able to onboard a bunch of people who have an incentive to now create content on Threads because they have a following on Instagram, and some portion of those followers is going to come over to this other platform; they're gonna see the notifications, they're gonna want to try it out."

The Boston Herald reported Threads racked up over 70 million users within two days of its launch.

"The reasons for its quick adoption are easy to see," Sarah Oh, a former human rights advisor at Twitter and co-founder of the fledgling Twitter alternative, T2, said in a statement emailed to Insider. "Meta has leveraged Instagram's gigantic user base and made it easy to connect the accounts they already follow. And of course, they're taking advantage of widespread disillusionment with Twitter."

She added: "However, it remains to be seen whether it will stick. Will it serve any new purposes for users - other than another place to hear from accounts they already follow on IG? With the algorithm boosting posts from larger accounts over those from friends, we've heard Threads referred to as 'the echo chamber for the ultra-followed.'"

T2, which now has over 10,000 regular users, began admitting users from its waitlist in December and continues to stagger their entry to prevent overloading their community base with new users. Oh said T2 doesn't "believe that the 'big bang' launch is an effective way to start healthy online communities."

The Threads platform, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said in a Threads conversation with The Verge's Alex Heath, is "not going to do anything to encourage" politics and "hard news" — the bread and butter of conversation on Twitter. Instead of focusing on replacing Twitter, he said, it will be a brand-safe place for users "that are interested in a less angry place for conversations."

"It's a bold move by Zuck exploiting the weakness of Elon in this moment," Ohanian said in his video, adding that he thinks "it can work" to push the bird app to the side.

A Meta monopoly?

Critics have pointed to the extremely large amounts of data that Threads collects and a current bug that prevents users from deleting their Threads accounts without deleting their entire Instagram as reasons to avoid creating an account just yet— but the criticism hasn't been enough to slow its widespread adoption.

Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic, told Insider the speed of Threads' astronomical rise is partly due to Zuckerberg's polished habit of making Meta-branded versions of popular social media sites.

"When Facebook bought Instagram, Facebook called it 'Instagram by Facebook.' They have this pattern now of either launching or creating spin-off social media networks based on what's most popular at the time, then do it under their brand," Caraballo said. "They have Facebook, Instagram, TikTok's competitor Reels, Threads, and WhatsApp — and, you know, it just it's kind of a nightmare scenario where you end up with a complete monopoly under one company."

Threads is so similar to Twitter that Elon Musk is threatening legal action over the site, Insider previously reported, claiming in a cease-and-desist letter that Meta hired ex-Twitter staff to help create the "copycat" app — something Meta denies.

At some point, given the collapse of alternative social media sites and new sites' struggles to gain popularity with wide audiences, Caraballo said, she believes the Federal Trade Commission may have to step in and force Meta to divest or force it to sell off WhatsApp or Threads because of the social media giant's vice-like grip on American social networks.

"It just is so dystopian to have one single person basically who oversees the entirety of all social media, at least in the Western world," Caraballo told Insider. "It is deeply distressing, and I don't think that's healthy for any society to have."

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