If Twitter is an injured whale, Meta just sent another shark into the water.
On July 5, Mark Zuckerberg’s company officially launched an app to compete with Elon Musk’s lopsided leviathan. The platform, known as Threads, is linked to Instagram but uses a decentralized protocol, meaning it will eventually be able to integrate with non-Meta apps too.
The list of emboldened Twitter competitors has grown long since Musk took over in late 2022. Their names range from the weird-but-memorable (see: Mastodon) to the cliched (see: Bluesky) to the domain-constrained (see: Spoutible, which would have been Spout if the dot-com domain didn’t have a $1.5 million price tag).
The name Threads lands closer to rivals like publisher-focused Post and Substack Notes, descriptive words straight from the glossary of online writing. You could even use them all in a pretty natural-sounding sentence about Twitter, like “I’m going to post some threads based on these notes.”*
The name isn’t actually new. According to the Guardian, Meta first used it in 2019, when attempting to launch a “camera-first” messaging app for young people, and retained the branding when that didn’t take off. It is a blessing perhaps, because it’s much better suited to describing a text-based platform.
But is Threads a great name, one that will rise above the frenzy? It is, at the least, a safe bet.
. . .
The word thread has for decades been used as a general online term, describing a single discussion in which replies are visually grouped with an initial message. It is also specifically associated with Twitter. Since at least 2017, thread has been used to describe a series of interconnected tweets.
This might make it feel like the name has a copycat quality, as when Instagram imitated Snapchat’s stories and called them … stories. But the word thread is also used in other forums, such as Reddit. And it’s effective in setting expectations; the name conveys to users exactly what the app is for and how they can expect to use it.
The OG threads were, of course, associated with fashion and textiles. The word has referred to a “fine cord” since basically the beginning of English. From there, it came to refer to any single element that be interwoven with others or anything that runs a course, drawn out like a thread from a spool. A lifetime. A story. An argument.
Threads are also associated with mythological tales, like the Fates cutting them or Theseus using one to find his way out of a maze. And so a figurative thread is also something we can follow, anything that can guide us through what would otherwise be a labyrinthine mess.
All of these are apt associations for Meta’s new venture. Plus the name offers an easy way to describe posts on the platform. In the hours after Threads launched, early adopters were joking about what to call these musings (yarns? stitches? looms?). But thread is the obvious choice, more obvious than the idea that one would send tweets on a platform named Twitter. The linguistic ease with which we can swap tweet for thread only lowers friction for those making the switch.
. . .
Threads is not a perfect name with perfect associations. Threads can be lost. Threads are associated with unraveling. (Just ask Weezer.) The word even kind of sounds like “threats.”
The term’s well-established online lineage also means it’s unoriginal. It feels relatively unexciting and utilitarian, a far cry from the likes of Mastodon, a uniquely bizarre name that stands out in a crowded marketplace.
The name will also make some people—especially less online people—think of clothes. But those associations probably won’t matter much or matter for long (particularly given the logo’s stylized @, which clearly signals digital communication). After all, we live in a world where people buy insurance from Lemonade and everything else from, you know, Amazon.
The name is in line with current trends. For years, companies have been moving toward brand names that are real words with traditional spellings, in part because they “feel honest, reliable and friendly in a world marked by constant change, political polarization, general distrust and turmoil,” as we have written elsewhere.
And it makes sense that this parent company, in particular, would rather go with a safe name.
If your company’s executives had, for years on end, taken nonstop heat for amplifying society’s most toxic ills, would you really want to make a cerulean-hued promise with the name? If your company was losing billions failing to make the metaverse a thing—after you renamed yourself Meta—would you really want something avant-garde?
The only thing the name Threads really promises is to visually group replies. It’s kind of like naming your parking lot Spaces or your bookstore Shelves.
Yesterday there were signs of possible legal trouble, not over the name but over similarities between how Twitter and Threads function. And we see at least one existing tech company of the same name (and this one snagged the exact dot-com). Assuming the company weathers these storms—which we expect it will given the app’s success so far—the name should hold up well, too.
*We didn’t say the sentence would be exciting.