Instagram Threads Getty Images

A year later, what Threads could learn from other social networks

Threads, Meta’s alternative to Twitter, just celebrated its first birthday. After launching on July 5 last year, the social network has reached 175 million monthly active users — that’s a notable achievement. But, after a year, Threads is trying to find its own voice by not being as newsy as Twitter/X and not being as open as Mastodon or Bluesky — at least for now.

Over the course of the last year, the Threads team has shipped features at a rapid pace and has gathered feedback on the social network directly through its users. After the launch, Threads has gained support for multiple profiles, a web app, a TweetDeck-like interface on the desktop, trending topics in the U.S., and custom controls for mute and quote replies.

The company has also made some progress to integrate with the fediverse. Users can connect their accounts to the ActivityPub protocol and can share their posts with the fediverse. Plus, they can look at likes and replies from the wider fediverse. But they can’t follow people from other servers just yet.

However, there are a lot of things Meta can learn from other social networks.

Following topics

Bluesky has done a great job with custom feeds and helping people discover different content. Custom feeds are programmatic feeds that aim to pull posts related to one topic without being just limited to one tag.

Threads implemented tags last year. But at times users end up sharing posts with different tags for an event or a trend. Is it WWDC or WWDC 2024 or WWDC 24 or Apple Event? You can save a search term and hope to get relevant and recent posts, but there is no way to combine those. Some kind of provision for this in the API, or a custom list implementation, would be a great addition.

Last month, Threads made its API widely available to developers. The API enables toolmakers to post content for users and display their own posts within an app.

“The Threads API enables businesses to create and publish content on a person’s behalf on Threads and to display those posts within an app solely to the person who created it,” Meta wrote as a description for Threads’ API.

This doesn’t allow developers to create third-party apps to consume Threads. We wrote earlier this year that over the last few years, social networks have become stingy about user data. In the process, they have shut down the development of alternative experiences that could help different sets of users.

Threads’ rivals like Bluesky and Mastodon have fostered an ecosystem where third-party developers can make their own clients. It’s not clear if users will be able to pick other Mastodon clients to experience Threads when Threads achieves full integration with the fediverse. It would be good to get some assurance that Threads is open to allowing third-party apps.

Separating Threads and Instagram

Threads built a lot of its user base through its Instagram integration. However, with more than 175 million active users, the company can afford to lose its ties with Instagram. Initially, a Threads profile was completely tied to a user’s Instagram account. So you couldn’t delete your Threads profile without deleting your Instagram account. The company later released an update for users to deactivate or delete one account.

However, you still can’t create a profile that’s separate from an Instagram account. Plus, there is no way to DM people unless you go to their Instagram.

There is hope in this area, though. In an interview with Platformer’s Casey Newton, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said that the company is thinking of moving in this direction.

“My hope is that Threads gets more independent over time. It’s still deeply integrated with Instagram — you can sign in with the same account, you can automatically follow the same accounts, and we show Threads content on Instagram. But over time, I want it to be more and more independent. We’re working on things like Threads-only accounts and data separation,” Mosseri told Platformer.

News and politics

Threads and Mosseri have taken a stance that they are not actively promoting or amplifying news and political content on the platform. Despite that, political topics surface in places like trending topics from time to time. Right now, these topics are just concentrated on U.S. politics, but when they roll out to other regions, there will be times when political content will take over the social network. And the company should hone the product in a way that could handle extremities without suppressing news.

X’s Community Notes program is not perfect, and often it makes mistakes or is prone to bias. However, at times, it succeeds in providing useful context. When it comes to news, Mastodon recently rolled out a feature to show bylines linked with the writer’s account on the social network.

The “For You” algorithm

I’ll admit it. No social network has a perfect algorithm. Video platforms like TikTok might have moved the needle in a positive direction in terms of serving interesting posts.

In comparison, Threads’ “For You” feed sometimes looks bizarre. Several people have written about strange posts appearing on their feeds that seem out of their interest sphere.

More recently, I have been seeing posts about people asking “Where are you from?” and talking about how single life or dating is hard. I’m not sure what I did to trigger this. But Threads really needs to work on making the “For You” algorithm more palatable when showing random posts on the timeline.

Better local content

To surface local content, Threads doesn’t have to look far beyond Instagram, which has developed partnership teams in various countries. Before Elon Musk took over, Twitter also had partnership teams in various regions focusing on surfacing relevant content.

Threads rolled out live scores for NBA, MLS, and even Euro 2024. But it missed out on the opportunity to engage cricket fans with live scores during the T20 World Cup last month — earlier today, the company published a blog post saying that “India is one of the most active countries on Threads globally.”

While there are areas for improvement, given the feature release cadence, we might see some of these areas being addressed sooner than later. Threads has acted friendly with Mastodon and hasn’t really cared about Bluesky. But if we are to believe Mosseri, the ultimate aim is to beat Twitter.

macos sonoma video gesture confetti two peace signs

How to turn off those silly video call reactions on iPhone and Mac

If you have seen thumbs-up bubbles or confetti going off on your screen while moving your hands on a video call, you are not alone.

A lot of people think that this is some quirk of Zoom or WhatsApp. However, this is an Apple feature baked into iOS and Mac. But you can turn off the reactions feature to stop these effects from appearing on screen during your work calls.

How to turn off video call reactions on a Mac

When you are on any video call on your Mac, click on the video menu in the menu bar; it’s a green camera icon in the top of your screen. Then click on the Reactions option in the drop-down menu to turn off reactions for all video calls.

How to turn off video call reactions on an iPhone

When you are in a video call on your iPhone, open the Control Center and tap on the video tab. Then tap on the reactions options to turn off gesture-based effects.

When Apple rolled out iOS 17.4 earlier this year, it gave an option to developers of third-party video call apps to turn these reactions off by default. So if your preferred video call app has implemented this change, you might not need to manually turn off these reactions.

collage of Noplace screens

noplace, a mashup of Twitter and Myspace for Gen Z, hits No. 1 on the App Store

Aiming to bring the “social” back to “social media,” a new app called noplace has surged to the top of the App Store as it launched out of invite-only mode Wednesday. Designed to appeal to a younger crowd — or anyone who wants to connect with friends or around shared interests — noplace is like a modern-day Myspace with its colorful, customizable profiles that allow people to share everything from relationship status, to what they’re listening to or watching, what they’re reading or doing, and more.

Boding well for its potential in the often-difficult consumer social market, noplace had already gone viral ahead of its public launch because of its feature that allows users to express themselves by customizing the colors of their profile. Though Gen Z may not have grown up with Myspace and all its chaotic customizations, there’s still a sense of nostalgia for a social networking experience they never had.

“I think that part of the magical, fun part of the internet is gone now. Everything is very uniform,” says founder and CEO Tiffany Zhong, who previously founded her own early-stage consumer fund, Pineapple Capital, and, in her teens, worked at Binary Capital, helping them source early-stage consumer deals.

Having played with every consumer social app over the past decade, Zhong has a good eye for the next big hit. She flagged in 2015 as the startup that would become the next Snap or Twitter, for instance, after realizing how much traction it had with kids and other younger users.

She also often tweeted her product insights and analysis, particularly about consumer apps, gaining her a following on social media. Given her background, it’s no surprise that Zhong has well-developed ideas about what might appeal to today’s younger users in a new social networking app.

“I’ve always loved social,” she says, but added that social media doesn’t feel social anymore. “Everything is just media. It feels very disconnected.”

In part, that’s because all our content now is highly personalized, the founder says. “We’re watching different content and [following] different interests than our friends, so community is harder to find as a result,” she says.

With noplace, the idea is to provide a place where people can follow their friends as well as find others who share their interests in one place.

The app offers a mini, customizable profile where they can share what they’re up to right now and customize it to reflect their interests. Users’ profiles can feature tags, which the app calls “stars,” that are the interests or topics that they care about. For example, users might add their astrology sign, their Myers-Briggs personality type, their hobbies or their fandoms to their profiles, which then makes them discoverable to others. It even has a “top 10 friends” section, reminiscent of Myspace’s top 8.

But noplace is more like a global group chat or Twitter/X rival than it is an alternative to Facebook, as it focuses on text-based updates and doesn’t support either photos or videos for the time being.

“Facebook 10 years ago — or Facebook when I was using it in middle school — was all around cool, life updates,” Zhong says. “We don’t get that anymore, right? You can follow [friends] on Instagram, but it’s still highlights, less updates.”

Also on noplace, users are meant to share what they’re currently doing, not what they’ve already done. If you’re in a new city or watching a show or checking out a new band, those could be your status updates. The app offers two feeds, one with your friends and another global feed from everyone in the app, and both are in reverse chronological order. There are no private profiles.

People who enter their age as younger than 18 will also receive a more moderated feed. The company is focused on moderation, having built its own internal dashboard for the purpose, and is tasking a team to ensure users stay safe.

Instead of algorithms, noplace leverages AI technology to drive suggestions and curation. The app doesn’t edit the feed for you, but rather uses AI to do things like offering summaries of what you’ve missed.

“We did that intentionally … having a global, public feed is what makes it so fun. It’s like everyone’s brain on paper,” Zhong notes. “People have a blast. They’re like, ‘I’ve never had an app like this before.’”

The Tokyo- and San Francisco-based founder first started working on noplace during the second half of last year along with a remotely distributed full-time team of seven. Late last year, noplace launched into an invite-only beta phase and “accidentally went viral,” Zhong says, prompting the team to distribute some invite codes to early adopters, which included some K-pop fans.

The app is now poised to offer younger Twitter users an alternative to the network now known as X under Elon Musk, and offers the same ability to post to a text-based feed, but combines that with friend-finding features and customization options that appeal to their demographic.

The app is a free download on iOS and is available in read-only mode on the web. Monetization plans are not yet underway. noplace competes with other friend-finding apps targeting Gen Z, like Wizz, Yubo, purp, LMK and others.

The startup is backed by funding from investors including 776 (Alexis Ohanian), Forerunner Ventures and others. According to PitchBook data, the company raised $15 million in a Series A1 round, at a pre-money valuation of $75 million, bringing its total raise to north of $19 million.

SpaceX wants to launch up to 120 times a year from Florida

SpaceX wants to launch up to 120 times a year from Florida — and competitors aren’t happy about it

SpaceX’s ambitious plans to launch its Starship mega-rocket up to 44 times per year from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center are causing a stir among some of its competitors. Late last month, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance submitted comments calling on regulators to ensure minimal disruptions to other launch providers in the area, with Blue Origin even suggesting limiting Starship operations to particular times — and giving other launch providers a right of first refusal for conflicting launches. 

But SpaceX may have even more ambitious plans for a second launch pad right next door: Space Launch Complex (SLC)-37 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS). At a series of public meetings held in March, the public was invited to comment on plans to launch Starship from SLC-37 up to 76 times per year. That would mean SpaceX aims to launch its next-gen rocket up to 120 times per year within a six-mile area on the Florida coast.  

The U.S. Space Force is currently preparing the draft environmental assessment that will be released to the public this winter, and that document will contain SpaceX’s final anticipated launch cadence. A Space Force representative stressed to TechCrunch that launch cadence numbers could change from now until then. Such numbers could be influenced by the pace of Starship’s development in the coming months or even by the number of scrub jay nests discovered during the EA process. Scrub jays, a bird native to Florida, are listed as threatened on the Endangered Species list.

However, as recently as a few weeks ago, SpaceX’s competitors were still using the number 76 as a benchmark for the company’s plans, according to a person familiar with the talks. The company did not immediately return a request for comment.

Scaling in Florida and Texas 

SLC-37 is a historic launch pad at CCSFS, home to NASA’s Saturn rocket in the 1960s and, more recently, United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV series rockets. The pad is now inactive after ULA flew its Delta IV Heavy for the final time in April. The Space Force announced in February that it was preparing to kick off what’s known as an environmental impact statement, a sweeping regulatory document that examines the environmental impacts of the proposed activities, regarding Starship launches from that pad. 

The Federal Aviation Administration is preparing a separate impact statement for SpaceX’s Starship launch plans at Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A. Both studies are meant to examine the environmental impacts of Starship launches and landing operations, which will involve the Super Heavy boosters returning to the launch site, similar to how SpaceX’s Falcon rockets operate.  The Space Force’s environmental impact statement for SLC-37 is also considering an alternative — having SpaceX construct an entirely new launch pad currently designated SLC-50. Either way, there would likely be significant construction, including deluge ponds, fuel tanks, a catch tower — and then upwards of 120 launches per year from both sites combined.

The two Florida launch pads would join an existing Starship launch tower at SpaceX’s Starbase launch facility in southeast Texas, as well as a second tower that’s currently under construction at the same location. In the near future, SpaceX could have four operational Starship launch sites. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has incredibly ambitious plans for Starship, which he sees as a key enabler for colonizing Mars and “expanding the light of consciousness” through the cosmos. He eventually wants to launch Starship multiple times per day, with each launch delivering hundreds of tons of cargo to low Earth orbit or beyond. The company has a separate goal of beefing up its Starship manufacturing facilities to enable producing one Starship second stage per day. 

Blue Origin, ULA push back

As part of the preparation process, the public is invited to comment on the scope of the plans before a draft environmental impact statement is published. While the public comments on SLC-37 have not yet been released, the comments on pad 39A at Kennedy were — and they included strong statements from Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance on the plans there. Both companies expressed particular concern on the effects such a high flight rate would have on other launch providers with infrastructure at Kennedy and Cape Canaveral.

“Just one Starship launch site is likely to disrupt other launch operations in the area and cause significant environmental impacts, as discussed in detail below. The impacts are certain to be amplified if coming from two launch sites in such close proximity,” ULA said in its comment

“For example, SpaceX intends to conduct up to 44 launches per year from LC-39A. If SpaceX aims for a comparable number at SLC-37, that would lead to nearly 100 launches per year—or one every three days or so,” the comment continued.  Blue Origin, which aims to launch its New Glenn rocket from LC-36 at the Cape Canaveral site, proposed a number of mitigating factors that made it clear it views the launch operations across both sites as a zero-sum game. Those included a suggestion to require SpaceX (or the government) to indemnify third parties for losses caused by Starship operations — including commercial disruptions.