Facebook is an ambitious company. That’s not an especially profound observation, but I can’t think of another reason that explains why the company just released a new app called ‘Threads by Instagram.’ Apparently there are times when none of the other Facebook-owned messaging apps–including Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram–will do.
Actually, there is one reason to launch it: Snapchat. That may be why Threads is pretty much a feature-by-feature copy of Snapchat, with enough Instagram to keep it interesting. Instagram had already added the “Stories” feature which allows users to post and share photos that only last 24-hours, similar to the premise behind Snapchat.
According to Instagram, the success of Stories is why they created Threads–which allows you to share photos directly with members of your “Close Friends” list, another Instagram feature that is remarkably similar to Snapchat (and that I’ve still never used once).
Which, to be fair, is why I have no idea why Threads exists because I am clearly not the target audience. But the fact that it does is also an implicit acknowledgment by the world’s largest social media network that it faces serious competition, especially for the attention of Generation-Z.
Which is a big deal. While Facebook has over 2 billion users, at some point, all of those customers will, well, die. I mean, that’s just math. I don’t mean to be morbid, but the mortality rate is still 100 percent–which means Facebook needs a constant stream of new, younger customers not only for it to grow, but for it to continue to be a thing at all. A social network without any users isn’t really a network and certainly isn’t particularly social.
The reality is that Generation-Z uses social media very differently than older users, who mostly share pictures of their cats and Ryan Gosling memes. Generation-Z, on the other hand, actually uses the messaging features more than anything else. Threads seems to be Instagram/Facebook’s implicit acknowledgment that it’s getting beat badly on that front with younger users.
The fact that this app is clearly targeted at younger users brings up an interesting point about privacy–which, let’s face it, is always an issue with Facebook. Here’s what I mean:
Remember when Facebook was mostly about telling people what you were doing right now? “Headed to the store.”http://www.inc.com/”In class… bored.”http://www.inc.com/”Checking out the new Ramen restaurant in town.” Yes, that’s really how people used to use Facebook before the introduction of the News Feed.
Apparently it wants to make that a thing once again, because one of the biggest most prominent features of Threads is the ability to set a status message, or a custom away message. Which, I guess is helpful in the event you want everyone to know that you can’t chat right now because you’re doing something more important than sending disappearing photos to your closest friends.
Of course, because it’s Facebook, there’s also an auto-status feature which uses your location information to automatically set your status based on whether you’re at the airport, or having dinner at a restaurant, or whatever you happen to be doing. Gee, what could possibly go wrong?
Literally no one I know has ever one said to me “man, I really wish Facebook would track where I am and then tell my friends.” It’s bad enough that they’re already tracking me without the thought that anyone else needs to know where I am. By default, “Auto-Status” is turned off, and new users are given the option to turn it on when first setting up the app.
But if the company is primarily targeting teenagers, it begs the question: should Instagram really be gathering this information at all? Even if it’s only available to a group of close friends, it’s still Instagram, which means it’s Facebook, which means it’s not entirely without leaks and breaches.
Does anyone really need another reminder of the bang-up job they’ve been doing lately with handling our personal information? Facebook says that it won’t use location to serve ads, and that it only stores location information for a short time, but again–it’s Facebook.
I get it. Well, I don’t really get this app, but I’m not the target audience either. I get that Facebook certainly thinks that this audience has a need for another way to communicate with its closest circle of friends. And Facebook desperately needs them to engage if it’s going to continue to be the world’s largest social network, and second-largest advertising platform, (which is the only reason this matters).
I have no idea if it will work, or if it’s even necessary, but it’s certainly ambitious.
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