The Algorithmic Anti-Culture of Scale

It has been about two days since Meta launched Threads — apparently a week ahead of schedule — and it is huge. Mark Zuckerberg says there are seventy million users already, and it seems likely it will hit a hundred million within the next couple of days. For comparison, it took Google over a year to reach 100 million Google Plus users.

It is not just the raw number of accounts which impresses, either — people are using this thing. It is busy and chaotic, but not in the same way as a bubbling restaurant or bar. It is more like a busy trade show where people are yelling motivational platitudes hoping you will buy their seminars. But that is not all. There are plenty of brands repurposing old tweets or trying unclever new posts, meme accounts, lifestyle influencers, meme accounts, some good photographers, and sports. And also meme accounts. There is no way to tailor this feed or tell it what you are more or less interested in; I have blocked every sports account I can find, and it keeps showing me more. Then there is the Instagrammy-ness of it: when you launch Threads, the Home feed updates with a delay just long enough to bury the post you were interested in below a few dozen new things.

Ryan Broderick:

My verdict: Threads sucks shit. It has no purpose. It is for no one. It launched as a content graveyard and will assuredly only become more of one over time. It’s iFunny for people who miss The Ellen Show. It has a distinct celebrities-making-videos-during-COVID-lockdown vibe. It feels like a 90s-themed office party organized by a human resources department. And my theory, after staring into its dark heart for several days, is that it was never meant to “beat” Twitter — regardless of what Zuckerberg has been tweeting. Threads’ true purpose was to act as a fresh coat of paint for Instagram’s code in the hopes it might make the network relevant again. And Threads is also proof that Meta, even after all these years, still has no other ambition aside from scale.

Broderick stacked the scales against the app a little by not following anyone and just seeing what suggested posts would come up. I, on the other hand, have followed a bunch of accounts with some clear interests and topics in mind. Its suggestions are still garbage.

Threads, therefore, is an exciting and interesting new product which is striking a chord with brand managers and internet personalities alike. It is not good; I do not like it. But the joke is on me because I would not be surprised to see it succeed and become the new way I find out about local events and businesses’ holiday hours. Things do not need to be good, original, or clever to be popular, and Threads unfortunately leverages Instagram’s existing scale with aplomb.

Update: The best part of Threads is how it mimics Twitter’s proximity to power so people can once again tell companies their products are bad. That is a quality not yet delivered by Bluesky or Mastodon.