Threads first birthday gift to users: advertising?

5 July 2024

Break out the coffee and the cake: a celebration is on the cards. Tomorrow, Threads, Meta’s answer — and much needed foil — to X/Twitter, notches up its first birthday. I was there as the platform began rolling out, and managed to score (just) a relatively low (five-figure) badge number. 98,522 for the record. These membership number badges were, for a time, displayed on a member’s corresponding Instagram (IG) page. Mark Zuckerberg’s IG page boasted the surely desirable number one badge.

But the badges have long since vanished, and Threads, after a few fits and starts, has taken its place — albeit if engagement is on the lower side — with the other micro-blogging style social media platforms, including Mastodon and Bluesky. And with one-hundred-and-seventy-five million active monthly users, it’s probably been a good first year for Threads.

In contrast, X/Twitter didn’t reach the same number of active monthly users until well into 2012, some six years after launching. But making these sorts of comparisons between Threads versus what was then Twitter, isn’t all that helpful. Twitter had to start from scratch. It was, just about, the first of its kind. I still recall some the discussions around X/Twitter, following its debut. A lot of people weren’t sure exactly what the platform was about, or what it was meant to achieve.

X/Twitter’s relatively slow uptake could be partly attributed to this bafflement that enveloped the platform. By the time Threads arrived though, we were all seasoned social media platform users. On top of that, it was a simple matter of clicking a button on your IG page, to become a Threads member. The boost IG and — to a lesser extent — Facebook, gave Threads, cannot be understated.

Aside though from posting what I call an online journal entry daily, I don’t really do much on Threads, or any of the social media platforms, for that matter. But I do get drawn into some of the conversations that appear, courtesy of the Threads algorithm, in my main feed. These posts are an intriguing combination of day to day happenings and situations. There are retellings of encounters with people nice, and not so nice. Of dating disasters, and weird goings-on at work.

In a sense, these posts from people I don’t follow, or even know of, are akin to the “suggested for you” content that litters many an IG feed. Somehow though, these Threads posts don’t seem quite as annoying, or intrusive, as the — and I won’t mince my words here — shit that features on IG. My big hope for Threads is that it doesn’t go the way of IG, which now borders on the unbearable. But Threads may become a little more IG-like in another way: the presence of ads.

While the prospect is apparently being considered, it may still be a year before ads begin making an appearance on the platform. To my mind, this is not so much a question of what happens, but rather, the way it happens. Threads needs to turn a profit. We, the users, cannot have this online playground to frolic on, without there being someway for Meta to pick up the tab.

Ads of some sort seem reasonable to me. As I say, it comes down to the way, rather than the what. Perhaps then there will be a measured approach to advertising. Or, worst case, perhaps not. The devil is very much going to be in the details here.


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