Social Knots

Threads is now available in the European Union, so of course I tried it out. Despite having forfeited my original rcarmo username when I a decade ago, it wasn’t hard to restore most of my usual follows, so I’ve been juggling Threads, X, Bluesky and Mastodon for a few minutes every day.

Here’s what it’s been like for the past couple of weeks.

Fit and Finish

The first thing I noticed (since I started out on an iPad) was that Meta still hasn’t learned how to do iOS apps, and that it’s Instagram all over again:

This is stupid and inexcusable in a time when even Macs can run iOS apps.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much this detracts from my use of Threads–perhaps I am an outlier on preferring to deal with social networks on a larger screen, but having been tinkering with SwiftUI for a while now (hoping that Apple enables side-loading in the EU soon), I have to wonder why this is still effectively an iPhone-only app.

Yes, the web version works. That is not the point at all.

The Graphs Don’t Match

The second thing I noticed was that I really had no great interest in what many of my Instagram follows had to say. I had them on Instagram because they were family or friends with great photos, and that is a profoundly different thing from having a conversation with them (which is usually best had in other ways).

Plus discovering content is just impossible. Threads has no hashtags, no lists, and all the wide-eyed claims of UX purity and simplicity fall flat when you can’t find interesting things to see that are unique to the network you’re on.

Certainly I was too deep into tech Twitter to bother with politics or fashion (and pet pictures seem to be a universal interest), but even following interesting people like Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi again didn’t improve things much1, whereas on Mastodon there is a lot of technical (or at least less mainstream and easier to discover) content from completely random people I would never know existed otherwise.

Bluesky, I’m afraid, never really held my attention. I even forget it exists sometimes, so I can’t really say much about it (other than its app working better on my Mac), and if it weren’t for a couple of people who picked it over Mastodon, I wouldn’t even check it.

The one thing all the Twitter alternatives share right now (and which I value tremendously) is that there aren’t obnoxious ads on my timeline every four or six posts (yet), which is the one reason I avoid using either X or Instagram other than for quick checks on a few other people.

I expect Threads to follow suit after its “honeymoon” period—just give it six months or so.

The Unholy Algorithmic Feed

I don’t get people’s fascination with algorithmic timelines, honestly. Threads’ “For You” tab is disastrously, hilariously bad, and although I peek at it on occasion, I go straight towards the “Following” view, whereas X’s is at least tolerable (minus ads) and relatively on point, as well as providing better insights into what is happening in the world.

It might be my (very limited) coterie of follows/followers, but compared to my Mastodon main timeline (not the local feed, my individual and hashtag follows), I derive zero useful information from Threads’ recommendations right now.

Extreme Disaggregation

And, of course, there is no single app/aggregator to view it all in, or at least skim the most interesting bits.

RSS is alive and well but kludgy for short form but Twitter blocked it, Flipboard is making a comeback and works surprisingly well with Mastodon and Bluesky but Twitter blocked it2, and Threads is still effectively siloed and likely to be blocked by overzealous loyalists who don’t understand they’re becoming the kind of thought police they tried to escape from in the first place.

So we can’t have nice things regardless of whether they’re inherently open or ruled by greedy corporate overlords, and that kind of sums up my overall feeling on social networking these days.

But hey, at least we can get the exact same pet pictures everywhere, right?

  1. Some very popular folk tend to be prolific posters and cross-posters, so it’s kind of boring to switch apps and find the same post. ↩︎

  2. You should be able to spot a pattern here. ↩︎