Instagram has rolled out an update to the Threads app, and it’s a pretty big change. While Threads previously only allowed you to message close friends (that is, accounts you’d added to your “Close Friends” list on Instagram), you can now use it to message any Instagram user. As planet Earth’s only user of Threads, I am sad.
Okay, so I exaggerated. I’m not the only user of Threads — some 220,000 people were using Instagram’s Threads app as of last year. But that’s less than 0.1 percent of Instagram’s monthly active users, which number more than one billion. And it’s not hard to see why Threads isn’t that popular — it essentially takes some stuff you can already do with Instagram and asks you to do it on a different app.
But I use Threads because it just feels intimate. It’s the only messaging app where there’s no junk, no small talk, no massive group chats to mute and ignore. It’s just me and my best buds. The app infers what you’re doing based on your phone’s location and activity, and keeps your Close Friends updated with statuses like “On the Move,” “Out and About,” “Chilling,” and “Low Battery.” (Don’t freak out — you can turn this off.) And you can send any Close Friend a photo or video with the click of a single button, on the home screen, through an interface eerily similar to that of Snapchat.
I get why Instagram is making this change. The ability to DM any user makes Threads more broadly useful to people who don’t use the Close Friends feature. Facebook also recently launched cross-platform messaging on Instagram and Messenger, bringing some of Messenger’s features to Instagram’s DMs. Instagram says that cross-platform messaging won’t be enabled for Threads, but it shows that the company is making an effort to integrate its various services and draw more customers in.
The update, first spotted by Matt Navarra and Jane Manchun Wong on Twitter, isn’t that big of a change in practice. The app still separates your DMs into tabs for “Close Friends” and “Everyone Else.” The interface looks almost identical. Notifications are only enabled for Close Friends by default, though you can change that.
Instagram Threads app has basically become the Direct app reborn with the latest update that allows messages with anyone, not just close friends pic.twitter.com/5JwGDhlejd
— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) October 6, 2020
Still, this update is a change to the philosophy of Threads. And without that philosophy behind it, I’m not sure what makes Threads unique. I don’t see why I should use it over regular Instagram DMs, not to mention Messenger, Snapchat, and all the other things I already have at my disposal. Sure, I’ve always had the option to use those apps to message my close friends as well. But Threads only contained those people, and that exclusivity made it attractive for me. Threads felt different.
But I also just like apps that don’t try to be everything that every other app is. And while Threads didn’t do a lot, it was really good at the one thing it did — making it super easy to hit up your favorite people. If it continues to expand into a multipurpose product more similar to Instagram Direct, I hope it doesn’t lose that focus.