While we wait for Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk to slug it out physically, we can look forward to a new battlefront in their virtual worlds.
Instagram's rival to Twitter, Threads, will be made available this week, adding to the crowded arena of social media apps.
What differentiates Threads from Twitter is that it is decentralised, meaning no single individual or organisation owns or regulates it, similar to cryptocurrencies – exactly what Mr Musk, who acquired Twitter, envisions for the platform.
Launching apps that appear to be clones of others isn't new in the world of social media, as technology companies try to emulate – and possibly improve on – the success of their competitors.
The first sign of Threads emerged in March when it was reported that Meta would launch an Instagram-branded app to take on Twitter, which was confirmed to The National by a company representative. At the time, the project was known as “P92".
Instagram, Meta Platforms and Mr Zuckerberg, its chief executive, have not released any official statement on Threads, and even its listing on Apple's App Store gave away few details. Here's what we know about it.
What is Threads?
The App Store description says Threads is “Instagram’s text-based conversation app”, in which users can “say more”.
“Threads is where communities come together to discuss everything from the topics you care about today to what’ll be trending tomorrow,” it says.
“Whatever it is you’re interested in, you can follow and connect directly with your favourite creators and others who love the same things – or build a loyal following of your own to share your ideas, opinions and creativity with the world.”
Screenshots on the App Store show features such as finding followers, the ability to follow the same accounts being followed on Instagram and conversations that are similar to Instagram threads (hence, its name, we suppose).
Meta gave away few details on its App Store listing, but it's clear that users can reply to, repost and forward posts – very similar to Twitter. Additionally, you can also choose the audience who can reply to your posts.
One more advantage Threads will have is that its users will already have their Instagram circles to draw from, instead of starting over and building a new community. Despite this, Threads is a standalone app.
When and where is it available?
It will be available on Thursday and can currently be pre-ordered on the App Store.
Compatibility-wise, Threads will be available on iPhones and iPod Touches that run iOS 14 or later. It won't be available for iPads – no surprise here since Instagram also isn't on Apple's tablets.
It was first dropped on the US App Store, sparking initial speculation that it would be a limited release. However, it popped up in Europe shortly thereafter, and The National can confirm that it is also available as a pre-order download in the UAE.
It is unclear at what time on Thursday devices will commence downloading the app.
How about Android users?
Strangely, Threads did appear on Google Play on Sunday but has since disappeared and, as of writing, is still unavailable.
People are speculating that it was a mistake, with no further details available. There is no word on when Threads will be made available for the operating system that powers nearly 72 per cent of the world's mobile phones (as of March, according to Statista).
How will it handle my data?
According to its App Store profile, the data that “may be collected and linked to your identity” by Thread, includes financial and sensitive information. This is more than what Twitter uses.
This could be a concern for users, who are sensitive when it comes to companies accessing their data. Meta is no stranger to privacy controversies, including being involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and beng fined a record $1.3 billion in May for violating EU privacy laws.
Why is decentralisation a big deal?
Being a decentralised platform means it has an open-source algorithm that will allow the public to inspect and scrutinise its proprietary software, or even use it in other applications.
This transparency would help build user trust, and a Mastodon-style app from Meta could help propel open-source microblogging into the mainstream.
Such a move would allow California-based Meta to leverage its user base. As of January, Instagram alone had about two billion users while its sister platforms Facebook and WhatsApp had 2.96 billion and two billion, respectively, latest data from Statista shows.
In comparison, Twitter only has about 556 million users.
It remains unclear if and how Threads would be linked to Meta's other platforms.
Does it support Arabic?
No. Well, not yet. Threads will support 31 languages – Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Norwegian Bokmal, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Traditional Chinese, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.
This means that the app will be launched, at the very least, in countries where the languages above are native.
Meta would be expected to work towards supporting more languages. It took seven years before Instagram finally supported Arabic in 2017, but we can count on a faster implementation given advancements in development and, more importantly, the user base it has in this part of the world.
Instagram Reels, its short-video app that rivals TikTok, needed only seven months before it was launched in Arabic.
Surely there's another app named 'Threads'?
Just for fun: there is actually an app called Threads on both the App Store and Google Play. It's also a communications platform that is more than four years old.
But it's readily distinguished from Meta's upcoming offering. If you try to search for “Threads” on the App Store, one of the top suggestions is “Threads, an Instagram app”, while on Google Play, the incumbent Threads' description says it is “not affiliated with Threads by Meta” (in all caps, to drive home the point, we think).
For some reason, searching only for “Threads” on the App Store doesn't return Instagram's app in the results. An alternative way to pre-order the app is to search for it on the web on your mobile, then tap the result from the App Store, which will take you directly to the download/pre-order page.