Meta’s plummeting Threads engagement numbers are good news for the Fediverse

By Johannes Ernst


The Wall Street Journal reports that:

User engagement on Threads has continued to fall after an initial surge in sign-ups … the number of daily active users [has fallen] to 13 million, down about 70% from a July 7 peak, according to estimates from market intelligence firm Sensor Tower. The average time users spend on the iOS and Android apps has also decreased to four minutes from 19 minutes.

That’s quite a bit different than the headlines of “fastest app growth in history” and “more than 100 million accounts in a week”. It was always clear that only a fraction of those initial users were going to stick around, but more concerning – from Meta’s point of view – is that decrease in time spent with the app by the users that do continue to use the app: from 19 minutes to four minutes is a very significant decline.

From the perspective of the (open) Fediverse, however, I think this is very good news:

  • At these numbers, Threads is still significantly larger than the rest of the Fediverse combined, but far less so than it looked like a week ago. There was a possibility that Meta would simply drop their plans to implement ActivityPub, or just do a very rudimentary job, because why would you spend much attention on this if all you can connect to is a network 1% the size of your own. At 10-20%, as it looks like right now, that argument is very different.
  • Rather than leaning back, and celebrating its success, Meta now needs to work hard to compete with Twitter. (And Twitter will have to compete back.) That is good for the world in general, and indirectly good for the Fediverse as the “market” for text-based microblogs is suddenly competitive again. People realize they have at least two (well-marketed) choices; it’s not a foregone conclusion that “Twitter owns this”. If there are two choices, maybe there are three of four, including the non-Meta Fediverse.
  • And perhaps, as a side effect of all of this, some of the dollars being spent may find their way into the Fediverse. Certainly Meta is now even more incentivized to highlight Threads’ differences with Twitter, and key to that is ActivityPub. I would think that should make them more willing, rather than less, to spend a bit of money on Fediverse infrastructure, like a test suite, that benefits the entire network.
  • Of course, it’s also good news for everybody who had been concerned that Threads would overwhelm the culture of the Fediverse the same way AOL overwhelmed in the culture of Usenet in the nineties.

(Note: I am in favor of Meta implementing ActivityPub in Threads; in fact I would like it to implement it in all of its social media properties, and messenger services like WhatsApp – or perhaps a similar protocol like Matrix. I believe the same for non-Meta apps like LinkedIn, YouTube etc.

IMHO, the ability to interoperate across platforms is a major disinfectant, and can be a major factor in reducing product lock-in, which can lead to better products, more choices, and fewer “forced” policies like privacy invasions, because users have the ability to go elsewhere. I understand those Fediverse users who do not want to touch anything that Meta does and sympathize; the good news is that you, as a user, have unprecedented control in the Fediverse over who you do and do not want to interact with, and more power to you if you exercise that control.)