Here’s a thought: could Threads be a test case for social graph portability?

I am thinking here of both feasibility (can this be done technically) and demand (would the lack of this capability slow adoption). I am on record as being sceptical on both fronts, pace Cory Doctorow.

the account data is not the only thing that is valuable. You also want the relationships between users. If Alice wants to join a new network, let's call it Twitbook1, being able to prepopulate it with her name and profile picture is the least of her issues. She is now faced with an empty Twitbook feed, because she isn't friends with anyone there yet.

People like Casey Newton are asserting that Instagram can serve as a long-term growth driver for Threads, but I’m not so sure, precisely because of the mismatch in content. I don’t use Instagram, but what I hear of how people use it is all about pretty pictures and, more recently, video.

This is the point I made in my previous post: should a relationship in one social network be transitive with a different network? Does the fact that I like the pretty pictures someone puts out mean that I also want to consume short text posts they write? Or is it not more likely that my following on Threads would be different from that on Instagram, much as my following on Twitter is?

The closest direct comparison to the sort of fluid account portability that Cory Doctorow advocates for would be in fact if it were possible to import my Twitter following directly into Threads or Bluesky, since those services are so very similar. Even such a direct port would still run afoul of the dangling-edges problem, though: what if the person I have a follow relationship with on Old Twitter isn’t on I Can’t Believe It’s Not Twitter? Or what if they have different identities across the two services?

I still have questions about how much actual demand is out there for the format that Twitter (accidentally) pioneered. Maybe we already saw the plateau of the microblog, and it turns out that the total addressable market is about the size that Twitter peaked at. It is quite possible that Twitter did indeed get most of the users who like short text posts, as opposed to video (Tik Tok), photo (Instagram), or audio2.

On the other hand, I am also not too exercised about the fact that Threads users are already spending less time in the app. It’s simply too early to tell whether this is an actual drop-off in usage, or just normal behaviour. Users try something once, but they have not had the time to form a habit yet — and there isn’t yet the depth of content being generated on Threads to pull them into forming that habit.

Anyway, this question of portability or interoperability between networks is the aspect of the Threads story that I am watching most closely. For now, I continue to enjoy Mastodon, so I’m sticking with that, plus LinkedIn for work. When the Twitter apps shifted to 𝕏, I deleted them from my devices, and while I have viewed tweets embedded in newsletters, I haven’t yet caved in and gone back there.

🖼️ Photo by Graham Covington on Unsplash

  1. Twitbook: that’s basically what Threads is. I hereby claim ten Being Right On The Internet points. 

  2. Audio is interesting because it feels like it is still up for grabs if someone can figure out the right format. Right now there is a split between real-time audio chat (pioneered by Clubhouse, now mostly owned by Twitter Spaces), and time-shifted podcasts. I think it’s fair to say that both of those are niches compared to the other categories.