As Threads continues to steadily gain momentum, it’s also looking to add more features to fuel more engagement, and essentially reach parity with X, and other social apps.
In order to do that, it needs to add DMs, which it seems to be working on, and hashtags, another highly requested feature, which Instagram chief Adam Mosseri has been lukewarm on providing.
But another key element, for publishers at least, is an API, which would then enable third-party platforms to schedule Threads posts, and facilitate more direct Threads posting options into their systems.
Gabe Rivera, the CEO of the highly influential Techmeme, has been calling for this for months, highlighting it as the key reason that Techmeme isn’t active in the app. Which is likely true for many other publishers and news distributors as well, and adding it could therefore have a big impact on making Threads a more central home for content discovery, and related discussion, therefore driving more growth for the app.
But Mosseri is not so sure, and seems a little hesitant on expanding the app’s publisher focus.
In response to a recent question about a Threads API, Mosseri said that:
“We’re working on it. My concern is that it’ll mean a lot more publisher content and not much more creator content, but it still seems like something we need to get done.”
Mosseri further noted that he wants Threads to “focus on creators”, not on news publishers as such, as they, increasingly, are the ones that drive engagement.
“We focus on creators because they tend to drive more engagement and cultural relevance, they have an outsized influence on public perception, and we believe they’ll become more important over time as power continues to shift from institutions to individuals across industries.”
Which essentially is a reiteration of Mosseri’s comments in the early days of the app, that the Threads team won’t be looking to amplify news content specifically, due to the “scrutiny, negativity or integrity risks” that come along with it, despite the engagement benefits.
“There are more than enough amazing communities – sports, music, fashion, beauty, entertainment, etc – to make a vibrant platform without needing to get into politics or hard news.”
Mosseri has since been pressed to clarify this stance, explaining that, in the past, Meta has “over-promised” news publishers, and essentially failed them in the end by having to backtrack on various initiatives. Like, for example, Facebook’s dedicated news tab, which it’s now in the process of removing, or its Watch video streaming hub, for which Meta had pushed publishers to share more video updates.
Shifts like this prompted newsrooms to, say, hire more video creation staff, who then had to be let go when Meta eventually changed focus.
At the same time, Meta’s own data shows that people have had enough of divisive news content and debates, which has seen many reduce their Facebook usage.
More recently, Meta’s been able to reverse that trend by adding in more AI-recommended content, largely in the form of Reels, which are mostly focused on light-hearted, entertaining clips that align with user interests. That’s the key shift that Meta’s looking to amplify within Threads, though doing so in text form is another challenge, while de-emphasizing news could also impede Threads growth.
Though Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg clearly believes that this is the best way forward.
In a recent interview with The Verge, Zuckerberg explained that:
“A lot of the conversation around social media is around information and the utility aspect, but I think an equally important part of designing any product is how it makes you feel, right? What’s the kind of emotional charge of it, and how do you come away from that feeling? I think Instagram is generally kind of on the happier end of the spectrum. I think Facebook is sort of in the middle because it has happier moments, but then it also has sort of harder news and things like that that I think tend to just be more critical and maybe, you know, make people see some of the negative things that are going on in the world. And I think Twitter indexes very strongly on just being quite negative and critical.”
Zuckerberg’s view is that Twitter, now X, is largely fueled by divisive discussion and political debate, because that’s what its algorithm interprets as being of most interest to the most people. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“I always just thought you could create a discussion experience that wasn’t quite so negative or toxic. I think in doing so, it would actually be more accessible to a lot of people.”
So while many users are looking for Threads to become a direct replacement for X, in providing real-time updates on varying news topics, Meta’s looking at it from a different perspective, in trying to inject a level of positivity into such discussion, as opposed to beating you down with the latest argumentative takes and divisive issues.
That’s why the Threads team has been somewhat hesitant to include a trending topics display, as using basic engagement metrics will inevitably skew towards the topics that are driving more angst, and thus comments and engagement. Because that is what drives comments, with various studies showing that high-arousal emotions, like anger, fear, and joy, are more likely to prompt replies and engagement.
Meta’s looking at the latter end of that spectrum, and using the interest in Reels content as a proxy for how it maximizes time spent in the app, while also balancing the need for real time information updates, in between more positive experiences.
So you’re more likely to see funny videos in your “For You” feed, as opposed to just post after post about the latest political debates. Those will show up too, but Meta’s not making this the focus, as a means to eek out engagement from arguments.
Which it sees as a more sustainable path forward, but within that, that also means that the Threads team is treading very carefully on elements like an API, which could, as Mosseri notes, see publisher content take over the app.
That, ideally, won’t happen, but in order to mitigate that influx, the Threads team needs to build systems to dilute the influence of publisher content within user feeds.
So it’s not just the fact that it needs to build an API, it also needs to reformat its algorithm in anticipation of any impacts. The same with trending topics, these are coming, but the focus of Threads is not to create Twitter 2.0, but to build a better version of what Twitter could be, based on a more positive user experience.
Which is an ambitious goal, but if anyone has the experience to make it happen, it’s the Meta team.
And as X slides further are further into divisive political debate, and people yelling at one another in their replies, the delineation of Threads will become more stark.
Whether that’s a winning strategy remains to be seen, but this is the ultimate driving goal of Threads’ development.