Threads is Working on Trending Topics, Though it’s Also Taking a Different Approach to Engagement

Yes, Threads is going to get a Trending Topics listing, though Instagram chief Adam Mosseri remains skeptical of the benefits of this, and other related features in the app.

In an exchange on Threads about the future development of the app, Mosseri explained that they will add trending topics, as well as some other highly requested features, though he doesn’t see them as a priority at this stage.

As per Mosseri:

My honest take is that requested features like lists, an edit button, a following feed, trending, and hashtags are all good to build, but none noticeably grow Threads or Threads usage. We’ll continue to build them because it’s good to build features that your most engaged users are excited about, but it’s hard to prioritize them when the measurable impact is negligible.”

Which is interesting, because surely a trending topics listing would increase engagement in a real-time app. Right?

Part of the value of X is that you can get a range of insights into any event as it happens, which is a big reason why it remains popular for sports discussion, and is still the best place to go for news updates. Trending topics is a part of that, which is why many users believe that Threads now needs to implement the same.

Lists, too, should help to expand engagement, by enabling users to monitor different topics of interest, while hashtags are also an embedded behavior, which, at least in theory, could improve discovery.

It’s interesting that Mosseri doesn’t see any of these as a significant growth factor, and he would know, given that he has all the usage data before him.

Which probably reflects the fallacy of what we think we know, as opposed to what actually happens.

For example, many, many Instagram and Facebook users have complained about the rise of recommended content in their feeds, which is primarily in the form of video posts from pages and people that they don’t follow, and would never choose to follow in the app.

Yet, the usage stats tell a different story. Time spent on Facebook increased last year, while Reels consumption rose 20%, despite those ongoing complaints.

Algorithmic feeds in general have also been a constant user gripe, yet all of Meta’s data shows that feed algorithms significantly increase user time in its apps.

So while we may think we know what we want, the data reflects otherwise, which is likely what Mosseri is pointing to here.

Yet even so, I do think that, as a real-time conversation app, Threads does need trends, and chronological sorting options, in order to maximize in-the-moment engagement.  

Lists, maybe not, and an expanded edit window, I agree, won’t have a big impact, while alternate topic-based feed options, as noted, do seem to have some potential, depending on how they’re implemented.

But I do feel that real time engagement should be a focus, and providing options to post into different communities could open up more means for users to engage with a broader range of topics, if Threads were to implement this as a behavioral shift early on.

The model for this, in my view, is Twitter’s “Facets” experiment, which it showcased at one stage back in 2021, but never actually implemented.

That could make people feel more comfortable sharing posts on a range of topics, because their followers would then have the choice as to whether they see all of that user’s posts, or just the ones on the topics that they’re interested in.

That has more potential than lists within itself. But then again, I may also be missing the bigger picture of what Threads is actually aiming to achieve.

Right now, most Threads users are focused on the app becoming an X alternative, which, for the most part, it seems to be doing reasonably well on. The app has over 100 million users, and as more people switch off of X, there remains an opportunity for Threads to scoop them up with a “good enough” replacement.

Though from the beginning, Meta has also been clear that it views Threads as something different, something more than a basic X clone app.

Back in October, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that:

“I’ve thought for a long time that there should be a billion-person public conversations app that’s a bit more positive. And I think that if we keep at this for a few more years, then I think we have a good chance of achieving our vision there.”  

The “positive” mention here is the key point, because as we’ve seen, the Threads team has already built Trending Topics and chronological search tools, it’s just opted not to release them due to concerns that they could lead to more negative engagement.

Last month, when explaining how the Threads team was approaching chronological search, which they actually released by accident a few weeks back, Mosseri explained that:

Having a comprehensive list of *every* post with a specific word in chronological order inevitably means spammers and other bad actors pummel the view with content by simply adding the relevant words or tags.”

Threads has also been cautious with topic tags for this same reason, with users only able to add one tag per post, making it harder to spam trending topic streams.  

Essentially, the Threads team isn’t just looking at duplicate features in this respect, but also how it can facilitate a more positive user experience. And maybe, from that perspective, Mosseri’s right, and none of these features will significantly benefit the platform’s broader goals, and could actually impede them in some ways.

It’s an interesting consideration, and it’ll be equally interesting to see how the Threads team looks to evolve the platform with this in mind, encouraging more usage, while also limiting harmful elements.

On balance, I can see Mosseri’s concerns, but Threads also needs to facilitate more in-the-moment discussion in order to capitalize on its opportunity, and win over some of the more embedded X communities.

Or, given the ongoing changes at X, it could just wait and see how many users Elon and Co. will turn off, herding them over to Threads instead.

However it chooses to approach it, it does feel like Threads will need to implement some changes sometime soon, in order to build on its growth momentum, and keep those Twitter cast-offs engaged.  

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