What is Instagram Threads and how does it work?

Instagram Threads, though discontinued in June 2024, was a short-lived experiment that shed light on evolving user preferences for public, text-based conversations on social media. Launched in July 2023 as a separate app from the main Instagram platform, Threads offered a unique space for open discussions and fostered a sense of community around shared interests.
Here's a deeper dive into how Threads worked and the considerations it presented:
A Public Forum Experience:

  • Threads departed from the photo and video-centric focus of Instagram by prioritizing public discourse. Unlike private messaging, Threads functioned more like a public forum. Users could participate in ongoing conversations (threads) started by others, and these threads could be followed by anyone interested in the topic. This approach aimed to create a more dynamic and community-driven experience compared to the curated feeds on the main app. Imagine a virtual town square where you could engage in lively debates about current events, dissect the latest movie release with fellow cinephiles, or share your thoughts on a trending social issue with a global audience.

Text with a Multimedia Flair:

  • While text was the primary mode of communication, Threads wasn't limited to just plain words. Users could incorporate links, photos, and even short videos (up to 5 minutes) within their threads. This ability to add multimedia elements like funny memes to illustrate a point or quick video snippets to elaborate on a thought made Threads interactions more engaging and dynamic. It offered a way to add context and visual interest to text-based conversations.

A Familiar Interface for Twitter Users:

  • The overall design and functionality of Threads borrowed elements from Twitter, making it easy for users familiar with that platform to navigate. Threads had a feed displaying text-based posts, with the ability to follow profiles and reply to threads you found interesting. If you were comfortable navigating Twitter threads and participating in discussions there, adapting to Threads wouldn't have been a steep learning curve. This familiarity might have helped with user adoption in the initial stages.

The Security Landscape of Public Conversations:

  • It's important to consider the security implications when dealing with user-generated content, which was the backbone of Threads. Similar to any platform that relies on user input, there was a risk of encountering inappropriate content, scams, or misleading information. It was crucial to be discerning about the information you consumed and the people you interacted with, exercising caution similar to how you would on any other social media platform.
  • Malicious actors could have exploited the platform by posting threads containing phishing links designed to steal login credentials or personal information if clicked. It was important to be wary of clicking on suspicious links, even if they were shared by someone you know (their account could have been compromised).
  • Since threads were public by design, anything you posted could be seen by anyone. This meant being mindful of what information you shared and avoiding sensitive topics that could put your privacy at risk. It was advisable to maintain the same level of caution you would exercise on any other public social media platform.

The Legacy of Instagram Threads and The Road Ahead

The discontinuation of Instagram Threads in June 2024 doesn't negate the valuable insights it offered into user preferences for text-based interactions and the challenges of fostering productive and safe public discourse online. Here are some lingering questions and alternative avenues to consider:

  • The Future of Public Discourse on Instagram: It will be interesting to see if Instagram incorporates any learnings from Threads into the main app. Perhaps future updates might introduce features that allow for more text-based interaction alongside the existing photo and video sharing experience. Maybe there's a way to strike a balance between the curated feeds and the open forum style discussions, offering users more options for how they want to interact on the platform.
  • Alternatives for Public Text-Based Conversations: If you're looking for platforms that offer public, text-based conversations similar to what Threads offered, here are some existing options:
    • Twitter: This established platform is known for its public threads and discussions around various topics. Hashtags can help you discover threads related to your interests, and you can participate in ongoing conversations or start your own.
    • Reddit: Subreddits on Reddit focus on specific communities and often involve ongoing text-based discussions. Here, you can find communities dedicated to almost any niche interest, allowing you to connect with people who share your passions.
    • Discord: Primarily used by gamers, Discord also offers public servers for various communities. These servers often have text and voice chat features, allowing for more dynamic and interactive conversations.

The choice of platform ultimately depends on your specific needs and preferences. Some platforms might cater more to specific communities or interests, while others might offer a wider range of discussion formats. The closure of Instagram Threads might signal a missed opportunity, but it also highlights the ongoing search for innovative ways to facilitate meaningful online interactions in the ever-evolving social media landscape.