Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Sincere congratulations on gaining 100 million users in week one of your intriguing new app, Threads! Sincere commiserations on losing half of your daily active users — including, reluctantly, me — in week two!
I know, I know, like most incurably optimistic Silicon Valley founders, you’re inclined to focus on the glorious first number and worry less about the second. In other circumstances, you’d be right to do so. You just made tech history with the rapidity of those downloads. Despite the drop off, you still have 25 million active users in week two. That’s not nothing! “I’m confident Threads is on a good path,” you wrote(opens in a new tab) on the day the drop-off news broke. “Way ahead of what we expected.”
But here’s the thing, Zuck. These are not normal circumstances, and the dramatic drop in DAUs should not be taken lightly. It should be a bright, blaring klaxon in your brain. Either Threads wins fast, or it doesn’t win at all. Either this service is the source of all that is new and entertaining and hip, or it will frustrate and bleed out all the users worth following and become brand-filled mush so fast your head will spin.
I know you have long since abandoned this slogan of your more reckless youth, but if ever there was a time to “move fast and break things(opens in a new tab),” that time is now. And those things are the kneecaps of Musk’s toxic Twitter.
Basically, like it or not, you’re in a virtual Cold War with Musk. As in the IRL Cold War, you’re fighting for hearts and minds; allies and image are everything. Unlike the IRL Cold War, this will be settled in weeks, not years. The power users of the microblogging world — the 20 percent of users who generally create 80 percent of interesting content anywhere, to use a rule older than social media(opens in a new tab) — are impatient for this war to be over so they can get back to crafting crowd-pleasing posts on whichever service wins.
Basically, like it or not, you’re in a virtual Cold War with Musk.
“The focus for the rest of the year is improving the basics and retention,” you wrote on Threads. No, Zuck, the focus for the rest of this year should be getting the conditions right so that Twitter legend Dril (opens in a new tab)will post on Threads again. “I can already tell this site is good,” he posted a week ago, “because my feed is 99 percent people I dont follow and dont want to follow.” That’s as close as Dril gets to an endorsement.
Trouble is, Dril hasn’t posted on Threads since — and has posted dozens of tweets in the same time. You may be surprised by how many users will simply gravitate towards whichever service Dril chooses in the long term.
The secret to Threads success
Right now you have the power users’ attention, because most of them hate Musk and his posse of hard-right nonentities with such passion that they’re willing to overlook the many messes of Meta. Your rival, a self-destructive buffoon taking wild swings at you, is your best PR person! How many tech leaders get an opportunity like this?
What the power users are not willing to overlook, however, are signs that you don’t care about or understand the Twitter refugee culture they slapped together in that first week. “Nice Twitter” was the phrase that got bandied about a lot. Malevolent accounts restored by Musk received embarrassing ratios, as did the Instagram influencers who straight-up stole jokes (including one who stole the “candles” tweet(opens in a new tab) from Dril, as if we wouldn’t notice).
I’d show you these and other examples of Nice Twitter-on-Threads I’ve been collecting on the app since its first day. But I can’t, because in the course of writing this story, I discovered an unwelcome new-to-me fact about Threads: There’s no way to view your own Likes! Over on Twitter, Zuck, that’s how many of us bookmark interesting tweets. Now I know I can’t access them, my desire to open the Threads app before the Twitter app has faded significantly. I could be tempted back simply by knowing that a list of my Likes – or better yet, a “bookmark” feature — is on the product road map and coming soon.
I know you’ve got Instagram head Adam Mosseri out there on Threads talking vaguely about upcoming features — and we’re especially waiting on those accessibility tools. He needs to double down on those updates, and you need to join the discussion. Don’t kid yourself that you can make an interesting Twitter rival featuring nothing but Instagram normies; they don’t know how text posts work. If the quirky kids lead the content, the mainstream will follow.
And how do you keep the quirky kids? You’re old enough to remember Microsoft’s Steve Balmer leaping around a keynote stage yelling “developers, developers, developers.(opens in a new tab)” Your mantra needs to be “features, features, features.” Add all the options! Promise everything! Risk feature creep (because in this case, more customization is better)! Most of all, reassure the Twitter refugees that they won’t be feeling the featureless pain much longer. The animus against Musk is so great that we can hang on if only we know for how long.
Add all the options! Promise everything! Risk feature creep (because in this case, more customization is better)!
Hashtags, a reverse chronological feed, a web interface, DMs, looking at our Likes: some version of these core microblogging platform features should be top priority. None of them involve reinventing the wheel, to put it mildly. A younger you could probably code it all in one pizza-fueled dorm room night, no?
At the very least, Meta should buy enough late-night pizza and pay enough engineers (perhaps rehiring a bunch of the fired ones) to have its Twitter killer up to full speed by Labor Day. After that, we’ll all start paying more attention to social media again, the way we used to pay attention to TV’s fall schedule.
If your Daily Active User numbers keep falling in the fall, that’s the equivalent of a movie that posted big box office numbers in week one then drops off dramatically in week two. An unfair but pervasive perception will harden among the all-important Twitter crowd: Threads isn’t doing it for us, Threads is dead. Or at least it’s as much on ice as Mastodon and BlueSky.
I wrote last fall about how hard it is for even Elon Musk to kill Twitter, because the service is such a large center of gravity for so many information-based professions. For the most part, I stand by what I wrote — but I definitely did not anticipate that you would leverage Instagram to get to that kind of scale fast. Bravo, now finish the job.
Or, to move fast and mash together two quotes from one of our favorite movie franchises: Great shot, kid. Don’t get cocky. Now let’s blow this thing so we can all go home.