With over 100 million new users, the launch of Threads has the real potential to displace Twitter as the default platform for academic social networking. Summing up the flows, Andy Tattersallexplores the positives and negatives of the platform and suggests how it can evolve as a platform for academic communication.
When Facebook’s parent company Meta announced it was launching its own microblog to compete with Twitter, it seemed inevitable, but it also sent shivers down the spines of many people living in my part of the world. While Threads may seem like an appropriate, if not formulaic, name for the platform, given Twitter’s use of streaming updates, it also conjures up dystopian imagery. First, as people of a certain age will remember, Threads was a British-Australian BBC television film that depicted a fictional nuclear war at a time when it seemed like a real possibility. The action took place in Sheffield, not far from where I grew up and now work. While the new social media baby is unlikely to cause such devastation, it appears to be fueled by an increasingly public spat between two tech giants, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. And at first glance on launch day, Threads seems surprisingly similar to its well-known rival in terms of functionality, although there is no direct message feature. In addition, it does not have a desktop version, which for some may seem progressive, but for professionals it implies that everything was done in haste.
The latest addition to the researcher’s communications toolkit is unlikely to gain a large following in academia overnight.
What lies ahead for Threads?
The latest addition to the researcher’s communications toolkit is unlikely to gain a large following in academia overnight. When Musk took over Twitter last year, many in the academic community saw it as the final straw due to the platform’s increasingly toxic environment. Mastodon was one of the winners of the Exodus with about 200,000 new users those first few days. The number jumped to over two million new subscribers in the following weeks. I was one of them, and like many others, I recalled that Mastodon was much like Twitter from a decade ago, fresher, friendlier, and more focused. However, it did not have critical mass due to the silos of Mastodon’s servers, known as instances. Despite the backlash on Twitter, it was much more difficult for organizations to switch and leave a carefully planned audience behind. In addition, Twitter has been widely recognized as the number one communication tool for scientists, mainly because of its ease of use (it is easy to use but harder to use correctly) and because institutions, the media, sponsors, and the public were interested in it. . there. In the first weeks after Musk came to power, I found myself juggling both platforms, first using cross-posting tools, until Musk stepped in and disabled access to useful independent platforms which allowed such functionality. Changes in Twitter policy and direction also made me use LinkedIn a bit more, where I noticed increased activity on my network and also tried to participate more in specialist groups.
Adrian Samuel Hutagalung, Shutterstock.
Where Topics May Differ
Twitter is an isolated tool, with no associated social media platforms to fall back on. Threads is different in that it will rely heavily on its social media siblings Facebook and Instagram to help with the launch. Their combined user base far surpasses Twitter’s user base, the question will be whether the two platforms will be accepted by fans and how well they will work as a toolbox. For it to be a useful academic tool, it needs a public, organizations, publishers, sponsors, and the public. Where it probably differs from Twitter is that it is openly controlled by the owners. Many consider Twitter to be Musk’s toy, which he uses to flirt with conspiracies and arguments. Whereas Facebook, also collectively guilty of various internet misdeeds, doesn’t have a big personality publicly shaping the platform on the fly. Having a big technology company does not guarantee that your new platform will become popular. One has only to look at Google’s various attempts and subsequent failures with their forays into social media. On a personal level, as someone who gave up on Instagram, it annoyed me that I had to recover my Instagram credentials in order to sign up for a Threads account. This alone can be a major hurdle for many new users, especially if you use your Instagram account name by default. This is problematic if you have a personal identity (where you use a fictitious name) and want your real name on your Threads academic profile. Also, it could mean that eventually Instagram will get millions of new users as a by-product, whether or not they get involved is another matter. Although its launch was delayed in the EUwhich is unlikely to help unite scientists.
Twitter is an isolated tool, with no associated social media platforms to fall back on. Threads is different in that it will rely heavily on its social media siblings Facebook and Instagram.
What does this mean for academia?
For those scientists who report their research, this means another platform to consider. This in itself is problematic, as with too many choices, the easiest option is to simply ignore them all or stick with what you know. Communicating your research is not only good, but is increasingly seen as an important part of the research life cycle. This can help increase citation, collaboration, influence, and project your work to others who may not be aware of it but find it useful. The time and attention demands of scientists mean that opportunities to explore new platforms are almost non-existent. Not only are there many general and specialized social media platforms, but there are other mediums to consider as well. Blogging, podcasts, videos, animations, and discussion forums provide valuable ways to reach out to different audiences. Scientists do not have time to critically evaluate and study this growing set of technologies, which is what I am trying to do, which is far from easy. This is why so many researchers and subject matter experts either pay to learn which tools to use properly or outsource the work entirely to outside consultants.
Scientists do not have time to critically evaluate and study this growing set of technologies.
Facebook is the number one social media platform, but the academic community has never really taken advantage of it. Pretty much that’s a shame as it’s global, has a decent demographic spread between young and middle-aged people, and has good functionality, especially regarding groups and pages. It is used by academics and groups, in particular to reach out to groups and communities, or to target advertising. However, on an individual level, he struggled to find a balance between professional and personal identities. Twitter makes it much easier to move between multiple accounts and networks. So if scientists can go beyond that and see Threads as an entirely new platform, that could be helpful. Undoubtedly, whatever happens will highlight more tension between Musk and Zuckerberg, whether that’s true or fake, no one knows. Also, no one can predict what Musk will do as a result, some have long predicted the demise of Twitter, and there is a possibility that one of the contenders could knock out the other, in the ring or online.
This blog post first appeared under the title Will researchers try new streams? on Digital Science Blog.
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Image Credit: Adrian Samuel Hutagalung, Shutterstock.