Thread On Arrival
Meta's Threads launches in the EU, but it won't turn the needle
With Meta's Threads app arriving in the EU (after relaxing some of its mandatory ties to Instagram to skirt stricter privacy laws), it widens its potential market by over half a billion people.
But will it matter in the battle for text-based social media dominance?
Despite the countless wobbles, erratic leadership and an advertiser exodus, X is still standing — and still dwarfing the user numbers and social significance of Threads. Today’s launch will bring a nice bump and a wave of good press. But it won’t stop the continued unraveling of Threads.
It had all started so well.
When it launched, Meta's Threads app became the fastest-growing consumer application in history when it hit the 100 million user mark in the blink of an eye. Even a diehard Meta-cynic like myself couldn't help but be impressed with the rollout. And while I was less impressed with the product — I stopped using it after a few weeks — I thought it was only a matter of time before Threads surpassed the user numbers of X. I even wrote as much:
It's only a matter of time before Threads is bigger than Twitter. It could even happen in the next couple of weeks. But it's also clear this app won't kill Twitter, not in its current copy-and-paste format.
Well, I was 50/50 for those predictions.
Threads hasn't leapfrogged X, but nor has it killed its rival. While Elon Musk seems to be doing his best to try (like destroying 15 years of brand equity and driving advertisers away), it's still alive and kicking. Thread's growth has long stagnated, with the estimated user count currently at 140 million. Bear in mind that 100 million of those turned up in the first week. It appears most users who were eager to switch over did so right away, and then the flow became barely a trickle.
When it launched, Zuckerberg set the goal at a seemingly impossible number of 1 billion users. He's fallen well short. The success of Threads depended on whether it could build on the initial hype and capitalize on a weak moment for X which was uncertain if it could even keep the servers running. Every app that launches enjoys a honeymoon period, but then comes the drop-off, and the hard work begins to win back users and grow. For Meta to have leapfrogged X, it needed to surpass its user numbers before the slide started to give it any hope of replacing the platform as the main text-led social platform. Beating out X in that initial launch period would have given it leverage, authority, bragging rights, and most importantly, momentum.
It failed, hard.
Worse, time spent on Threads has plummeted since launch, showing that those still using it, are barely using it. Perhaps that shouldn't come as a surprise — the content on Threads is far worse than X, and it's still feature-light. It might want to position itself as a "happier" place, focusing more on community and turning its back on heated subjects that cause the most debate (and hate). But without that in-the-moment culture commentary, there's no buzz. There's no excitement.
As of late August, users average just over 2.9 minutes of daily activity, down from 21 minutes on launch. For context, time spent on X, despite all the recent turbulence, is over 18 minutes per day. That metric is bad news for the platform, bad for convincing new users to join, and bad for converting that into ad revenue, which is obviously the end goal for Meta. Threads is still missing fundamental features, and it's nothing more than a skeletal version of its rival, really only useful to those who have a huge Instagram following to convert or a burning hate for Elon Musk.
What this is all to say is that the Threads experiment is likely another doomed attempt by Meta to replicate its competitors, joining the ever-growing hall of fame of failed copycats.
And today's EU launch will be the final nail in the coffin.
Yes, we can expect another significant user bump — could it overtake X? I'm not sure — but then the expected flatlining will arrive once the excitement dissipates. If it follows the original launch, this will come quickly and hit hard, as the lack of functionality becomes apparent to those who sign up this week. From there, Threads has lots of work to do to keep these users and has to quickly offer something other platforms don't to incentivise them to stay.
After the dust settles, we'll get a sense of what's to come for Threads.
I still think it plays out like this — Meta will try feature-stuffing Threads to win users, fail, give up, and eventually, the company will bury Threads and integrate any valuable bits into Instagram. Adam Mosseri already confirmed that Meta had tested this concept internally before launching a standalone app. If the EU launch is a bust, this move could happen sooner than expected.
At least Zuckerberg has the Metaverse to fall back on.
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