While it is in all probability a coincidence, it is notable that at about the same time Twitter rebranded itself as X, Meta introduced a Twitter-like add-on to Instagram, which they named Threads. In some ways, it seems somewhat incongruous that an inherently visual app, Instagram, adds something more text-heavy.
Elon Musk’s recent change in the name of his platform (he made the change in April 2023) adds much confusion to the social media lexicon of late, so for this article, we will refer to his platform as X when referring to how it stands now (or possibly in the future) but continue to use Twitter when referring to that platform’s history.
X (Twitter) vs Threads: What’s the Difference?:
Background and History
Meta launched Threads on July 5, 2023. There was no attempt to hide the fact that they saw it as a competitor to Twitter. They were probably surprised, however, to find that 30 million people would download it on its first day, jumping to 70 million within a couple of days and 100 million within a week. This dramatically out-paced other attempted Twitter clones and had everybody (including Elon Musk and the Twittersphere) standing up and taking notice.
Basic Features Comparison
It is clear that Twitter inspired the development of Threads. The two apps do resemble each other in many ways. Indeed, in July 2023, X sent a letter to Meta threatening legal action over the new platform and accused them of hiring ex-Twitter employees to divulge trade secrets. Meta denies these accusations, stating that nobody on Threads’ development team is an ex-Twitter employee. Musk made his views clear in a post (tweet) on X, where he declared: “Competition is fine, cheating is not’.
Competition is fine, cheating is not
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 6, 2023
Threads Allows Longer Messages Than X
In its early days, Twitter set a 140-character limit to its messages (which were always known as “tweets”, although they are now officially called “posts”). After a while, Twitter doubled its post length to 280 characters, almost revolutionary at the time. Suddenly you could write semi-coherent tweets, rather than mere sound bites. X continues with this 280-character limit today.
At 500 characters, Thread gives more opportunities for debate or discussion, as long as people don’t simply stretch their posts to make up the permissible length.
Both Platforms Encourage You to Use Multimedia in Your Posts
When Twitter first began, your tweets could only contain text – 140 characters maximum. However, as the internet evolved and bandwidths increased, Twitter added additional multimedia capabilities. X still includes a help file called “How to Tweet” (despite that term being out-of-date now) which states in its first line, “A Tweet may contain photos, GIFs, videos, links, and text.” You can include up to 4 photos, a GIF, or a video in your Tweet. Videos on X are limited to 2 minutes and 20 seconds, which is shorter than the videos allowable on Threads. If you subscribe to X Premium (previously Twitter Blue) you can share videos of any length, however.
Instagram, in its Introduction to Threads, states that “posts can be up to 500 characters long and include links, photos, and videos up to 5 minutes in length.” Threads matches Instagram in permitting you to incorporate up to 10 items with your post.
Both Feature a Feed, Although Threads’ Version is More Basic Than X’s
We have mentioned elsewhere in this post that the two apps look reasonably similar side-by-side. This is because they both feature feeds of posts with the same basic look. However, Threads’ feed still lacks some of the features that its rival has developed over the years.
For example, although you can choose whether you want a feed of posts that Threads believe are relevant “To You”, or a feed of posts from people you are “Following”, you can’t customize your feed in any way (apart from selecting the people you wish to follow). You can mute specific words, however, as well as muting, restricting, or blocking particular accounts.
With X, however, you can better customize the types of content that will appear on your feed.
Threads Doesn’t Yet Contain Ads
Depending on your point of view, Threads’ current lack of ads may be a blessing, compared to all the Promoted Posts that often appear in X’s feed. Of course, if you’re a businessperson wanting to reach an audience, Threads isn’t yet for you. Of course, this will only be short-term. Threads is part of Instagram, which is part of the Facebook Advertising Network. So, it’s only a matter of time before Threads becomes monetized.
Engagement and Discoverability
You Can Make, Comment, and Interact with Posts, But Not Direct Message in Threads
In some ways, Threads is still X-lite. For example, you can make and share posts on both platforms and add comments. You can also like posts and opt to follow those posters. However, unlike X, you can’t send direct messages to other Threads users, having one-on-one chats with them.
Meta may feel that direct messaging is unnecessary in Threads. They already offer that service on Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. However, with Threads being part of Instagram, you’d think that there could be some form of interconnection between the apps in this area. There are plenty of other places in Threads where tapping a button opens up Instagram for you, so you’d think that they could connect direct messaging, too.
Threads Has Yet to Match X’s Search Capabilities
There’s no doubt at the moment that search on X is superior to that on Threads – by a large margin. This is probably the area where Threads needs to expand its capabilities more than any other.
You can easily find “tweets” on X relating to any current news item. All you have to do is search by trending news, keywords, people, hashtags, people, or usernames. Most of this is still absent from Threads. The lack of hashtags is particularly problematic when you consider that you can use up to 26 hashtags in a post on Instagram. Isn’t Threads supposed to be part of Instagram – why the lack of such a basic feature? At the time of writing, you can search for accounts in Threads – and nothing else.
X Has an Explore Page, Not Yet Matched by Threads
X users can always find new content by going to the Explore page.
As you can see from the picture, you can find posts relating to Trending, News, Sports, and Entertainment, as well as targeted “For You” posts. Threads doesn’t have a matching page, as yet.
User Experience and Platform Adoption
You Can Use X on Your Computer, But Threads is Mobile-First
As we saw above, despite Elon Musk’s recent ructions, X is a comparatively old social platform. It was developed as Twitter in the days when most people still used their computers to access the internet, and as a result, it has an advanced desktop platform that has seen many iterations of development. It has, of course, moved with the times, and can also boast a stable mobile app now at version 10.3.2 (on iOS anyway). In saying that, Threads calls its current mobile version 298.0, so you can’t easily compare the numbering systems.
The way people accessed the internet had already changed by the time Facebook (as the company was then) released Instagram, making it mobile-first. You can use Instagram on a computer now, but it is more of an afterthought, rather than a serious version of the app. Threads is even more mobile-centric than its parent. Until late August 2023, you couldn’t use it on a computer, but Meta has just begun rolling out a web version of the social app.
First impressions are that the web version is perfectly functional, but like many modern social apps, it still looks like it should be viewed on a vertical screen. The sides of your computer screen are predominantly left blank.
Threads is Dependent on Instagram, While X is a Standalone Platform
You have to be an Instagram user to access Threads, even if you just want to read posts. The two apps are interconnected. In many ways, it has the same relationship with Instagram as Reels – Threads just uses a separate app as its interface, while Reels is completely within Instagram. Threads is merely one part of the Meta ecosystem, much of which interconnects.
X, on the other hand, stands alone. You can use X by itself, and it doesn’t require you to have any other account or social media app. X has its own policies and principles. Elon Musk is making many changes to X at the moment (including its name), and some previously free features have become paid. However, at its core, X is independent of all other software.
Both Apps Feature a Similar User Interface
It isn’t hard to guess which competing social media app Threads is trying to emulate. Its core look and user interface look like a simplified version of X’s latest app.
Each app highlights any multimedia in a post, includes the text, and both include ways for people to react to the posts. Threads’ lack of hashtags makes one notable difference in appearance between the two platforms, however.
Privacy and Safety
You Waive Much of Your Privacy Rights with Both Threads and X
As you can see from the statement in the Apple App Store (and undoubtedly things are the same on Android), Threads demands access to data relating to many areas.
However, when you go to the comparative page for X in the app store you see a similarly invasive statement. In addition to Data Linked to You, X discloses details relating to Data Used to Track You and Data Not Linked to You (i.e., data they may collect not linked to your identity).
However, as Kaspersky has observed much of Threads’ (and presumably X and Instagram’s) privacy data list is written by the developers, so isn’t necessarily accurate. If you look closely at the App Privacy boxes shown above, they all begin, “The following data may”. Some of the data that Threads claims it may use isn’t even in the data it asks to collect. To some extent, it looks like the developers are leaving their options open for future data use.
Threads Isn’t Available in the E.U.
While there is much similarity between Threads and X there is one major difference for people living in E.U. countries. They can access X and use all its features. On the other hand, all they can do is read about Threads – they can’t (legally at least) use the app for the time being.
The E.U.’s Digital Markets Act includes provisions for sharing user data across multiple platforms. Meta can’t operate Threads’ model there until it receives approval from the European Commission before it can release the app in their member states. And they don’t seem to be in a hurry to give their consent. Thread’s integration with Instagram places it firmly under the realms of these provisions, unlike X, which is a standalone app. For example, once you create your Threads account, you can’t delete it without also deleting your Instagram account.
According to Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), the regulator had been in contact about the new service and that it will not be rolled out in the EU “at this point”.
It is Harder to Leave Threads Than it is X
If you, like many others, wish to protest the changes Elon Musk has made to Twitter (including its rebranding to X) it’s easy to walk away from the platform. You can simply log out and deactivate your X account.
It's not so simple to leave Threads, however. It’s possible that you simply signed up to try Instagram’s new feature. However, once they’ve got you, you can’t simply reverse this process. You must first quit Instagram fully before you can leave Threads behind.
Of course, you can simply delete the Threads app from your phone, but that doesn’t close your account down. All your details are still sitting on Meta’s servers, waiting for the next time you use the app.
Wrapping Things Up
At the moment it is best to think of Threads as “Twitter lite”, or “X lite” if you’ve adapted to Elon Musk’s new nomenclature. However, it is still early days for Threads, and there is still plenty of time for Mark Zuckerburg to make it a more useful app.
The lack of search capability, an Explore or Discovery type system, and particularly the absence of hashtags are all serious drawbacks at the moment. However, Threads is functional and visual posts, at least, are eye-catching – an important requirement for an Instagram extension.
One recent change at X has been their verification system – now you pay for verification, regardless of the authenticity of your account. This may be a deciding factor in Threads’ favor, where Instagram verification carries over.
Also, at the moment, Threads’ users appear to be friendlier than their X counterparts, particularly now that Musk appears to have backtracked on some account management practices on the platform.
The recent introduction of a desktop version of Threads shows that Meta is still adding features. It will be interesting to see how things develop as we make future updates to this post.