Do you remember Google+? I’m sure you don’t. It was the tech giant’s ill-fated attempt to take on Facebook at its own game, as a social media platform. It launched with a flurry of good press back in 2011 based partly on the theory that, having leapfrogged Yahoo and Ask Jeeves in the search engine game, Google could do the same on socials. It was discontinued a few years later.
What about Clubhouse, iTunes Ping or Meerkat? The central reason why these platforms tend to fail is the same reason why Threads, the new Twitter rival launched by Meta, faces an uphill struggle: network effects.
James Carville, a political strategist for Bill Clinton, once quipped that he’d like to be reincarnated not as the president or a hall of fame baseball player but as the bond market, because “you can intimidate everybody”. Liz Truss would surely agree. But network effects must be a close second.
The concept is pretty simple: when more people use a product or service, its value increases. On social media platforms, the more users who engage with a given network, the more likely it is that others will too. It’s just the place to be. And it’s why Elon Musk will have to try even harder if he wants to kill Twitter.
Still, Meta is giving it a good go. Mark Zuckerberg claimed this morning that the new app had gained 10 million users in seven hours. Impressive, particularly as at first glance Threads appears to be a terrible substitute for Twitter, in that users can neither curate their timeline to include only people they follow, nor can it be arranged chronologically. (Apologies if you have no interest in Twitter, but this is kind of a big deal.)
So, Threads threatens to be the dreaded ‘For You’ tab, except packed with influencers instead of crypto bros. But what is it actually like to use? Our intrepid features writer Katie Stick has spent the day on the app – check out her take.
We take it for granted that interoperability does not exist within social media. If you have a large Twitter following (or even a small but perfectly formed one like mine) if you leave you must start from scratch somewhere else.
Yet we don’t put up with such inconveniences when it comes to other services. For example, as Tim Harford points out, it’s not as if you can only call people on the same mobile provider as you. That would be very inconvenient! Similarly, you can make and receive payments to and from people who bank with different institutions. And when you switch banks, they don’t get to keep your money.
Still, why might Threads succeed? First, Musk appears intent on setting fire to a company he purchased for $44bn only last October. Second, with its connection to Instagram, Threads enjoys proximity to two billion active monthly users and a readymade advertising model. In that way, it stands a better chance than the incomprehensible Mastodon.
And were Threads to succeed, it would represent a remarkable coup for Meta, which has suffered slowing growth, underwhelming launches and lost advertising revenue to Google.
Either way, I for one welcome our new/current tech overlord. And it makes a nice change from writing about interest rates, which markets now forecast to hit 6.5 per cent next year.
In the comment pages, Ben Judah says Britain’s international reputation is in the gutter, but Labour can fix it. Prudence Ivey calls on tenants to vote if they want to force politicians to reform renting. While Alexandra Jones warns we must be rigorous before prescribing psychedelics.
And finally, Londoners’ Diary attended the Spectator summer party last night, where Liz Truss was something of a figure of fun.