With tens of millions of subscribers and already busy newsfeeds, it only took a few hours for Meta to appear to be doing Thursday with Threads what no other rival could: establishing itself as a solution. credible alternative to Twitter.

“It’s off to a great start. If Twitter weren’t too worried, today isn’t a good day for Elon Musk and his teams”, summarizes Laurence Grondin-Robillard, doctoral student in communication at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) and in charge of course at the School of Media.

As of 11 a.m. Thursday, the latest tally as these lines were written, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was pleased that Threads already has 30 million subscribers. However, he recognized, like many users, that this new social network was far from being developed. “We have a lot of work ahead of us to build the app,” he explained on his Threads account, from which he streamed dozens of talks throughout the day.

Meta had been preparing an application based on the Twitter model for several months, in turmoil since its purchase by Elon Musk in October 2022. Threads (“Fils” in French, as in the expression “Fils de presse”) was finally returned available for download, for iOS and Android, at the end of the day on Wednesday. Threads is advertised for download as “an Instagram app” and indeed the new app is closely associated with Instagram, which has 1.6 billion monthly users worldwide. By comparison, Twitter has 400 million.

“For Meta, it only takes one in four Instagram users to switch to Threads for it to be as big as Twitter,” notes Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst at Insider Intelligence, in a report. And Meta has the size, resources, and execution strategy to make it happen. »

Twitter’s reaction was quick. In the middle of the day, the American media Semafor published a letter from Twitter’s lawyers threatening Meta with legal action for having “systematically, deliberately and illegally appropriated trade secrets”.

Elon Musk tweeted earlier today a sarcastic tweet: “It’s infinitely better to be attacked on Twitter by strangers, than to indulge in the false happiness of ‘I hide-my-sorrow’ on Instagram. »

You can only register in Threads with your Instagram account, and you can very easily follow your followers from one account to another. Luke Lintz, for example, CEO of marketing agency HighKey, already had 7,600 followers on his Threads account by midday Thursday, most inherited from his one million followers on Instagram. “In six years on Twitter, I have about 10,000,” he said in an interview.

Twitter regulars are not so out of place on Threads, where we find essentially the same mechanics where everything starts with a text post, with or without a photo, with a limit of 500 characters. You can also post a video up to 5 minutes in length.

These posts (which are as yet unnamed, some simply offering “threads”) are displayed to its own followers and, depending on the platform’s algorithm, to other users.

These can transfer them, react, or simply like. No advertising is displayed there yet, Zuckerberg explaining online that we first want to “cross the billion users” before thinking about monetization.

The first success of Threads is that Meta has attracted a number of influential Instagram users from day one, including in Quebec, to which are added the subscribers of each new user. The other finding, which may seem irritating at first, is that it is impossible to read only the publications to which one subscribes. The main newsfeed includes both users that we follow, as well as others forcefully displayed by Threads according to their popularity or relevance.

Result: Threads already feels more dynamic and interactive than Mastodon or Bluesky, two other competitors to Twitter.

“It’s off to a better start than the alternatives we looked at; I liked Mastodon, but it was too complex, said Mrs. Grondin-Robillard. Threads is intuitive, it’s a mix between Twitter and Instagram design. Most first-timers seem very excited. »

For Luke Lintz, Threads “will slowly kill Twitter…unless Twitter makes some drastic changes.” He believes that the network bought by Elon Musk must take the path of decentralization and the use of blockchain to stand out.

All is not rosy, far from it, on this new network. First, we are advised upon downloading that Threads, like Facebook and Instagram, is very greedy in terms of user data. Browsing history, location, contacts, identifiers, financial information, nearly 14 categories of personal data “may be collected”, we are warned.

Laurence Grondin-Robillard was also one of the first to make a disturbing discovery: you cannot delete your Threads account without deleting your Instagram account at the same time. The fact that Threads announces that it will use, like Mastodon, a decentralized protocol called ActivityPub does not reassure her. “The data is not going to belong to us. »

Mr. Lintz does not believe that Meta agrees to really decentralize Threads. “It’s so connected to Instagram, they’re going to want to keep their data to themselves. »

Created in 2016 by a German developer who feared the acquisition of Twitter by the controversial Peter Thiel, Mastodon has a similar interface with “toots” (“pouets” in French) containing video, images and up to 500 characters. The big difference, which makes its appeal or disadvantage depending on the users, is that it is a decentralized network between 11,479 “instances”, corresponding to independent servers used by some 7 million users. Interactions between “instances” are complex.

Bluesky was conceived in 2019 under the aegis of the founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, before becoming an independent entity in February 2023. The concept: a decentralized social network between several servers using a platform similar to Twitter, but in open code. Bluesky is invite-only and currently has only 180,000 active users, with a waiting list of around 1.9 million people. “It’s Twitter, in emptiness”, summarized the French media Numerama tersely.

Born barely two weeks after the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk, Post News (or Post.News) uses the same news feed where you can post your messages, subscribe to certain accounts and start discussions. The basic concept is to pay those whose content is read, by giving them a “tip” with points equal to 1 cent US which can be cashed in through an intermediary, Stripe. Post.News, which launched its iOS app in mid-June, is estimated to attract 440,000 users.