Instagram’s Threads brings friends closer, takes features farther

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New Delhi | Published: November 23, 2019 7:31:26 PM

Instagram Threads wants to be the WhatsApp for best friends, but it has to take a long road

Over a few years, the dynamics of using social media have changed. Once considered a hotspot on the Internet, Facebook has apparently lost its charm to Instagram, especially among the Gen Z that is mostly inclusive of millennials. As per a study conducted by Business Insider in collaboration with British market research firm Streetbees, Instagram surpassed Facebook to become the “favourite social media platform”. Which is also why Instagram has to keep reinventing its features, even if they are claimed to be “just inspired” from rival apps. Not only the features, but Instagram also has a suite of apps to help users utilise the platform to the fullest. One of these apps is Threads, which was launched recently on both iOS and Android.

Threads is essentially a dedicated app for Instagram Direct to allow you to connect with your ‘close friends’ more conveniently without distraction. The contacts that you add to the list of close friends on Instagram are the only ones accessible in the Threads app. Available for iOS and Android, Threads is an attempt by Instagram to offer a chat service while decluttering it from its main app. So, should you download the app, just for the sake of chatting with your close friends in an easier way? Here’s what I think:

Right off the bat, Threads has a familiarity to its interface. The app icon looks like a funkier version of the Instagram icon, focussing on a camera. Of course, Threads is a personal messaging app, but it emphasises on the exchange of photos, videos, and selfies more than texts. Opening the Threads app takes you to a screen where you need to select the preference of order for your close friends. For that, you need to have close friends already chosen from the main Instagram app. But if you haven’t, you can choose your close friends from right within the Threads app.

Since I have a couple of close friends on Instagram, I chose to skip the part where I was supposed to modify the list. Proceeding to the next step of the app brings a full-blown camera screen with a number of elements floating on it. On top, there is a Home button, a flashlight button, and a camera mode button. The flashlight button and camera mode button, which switches between the rear and front ones, are pretty intuitive. The Home button, however, intrigues you initially. There is a shutter button at the bottom along with a series of circles showing the profile photos of your close friends.

The functionality is here is quite simple – you either click a photo (or a selfie) and send it to one of the close friends, or just tap on a close friend’s circle, which will click a photo, and then send it immediately. This is exactly identical to what you get inside the Instagram app. You can even doodle on the photo, add text to it, or just save it to your device. Pretty neat. However, it would have been great if I could add face filters and stickers to the photos before sending them – because chatting with friends is supposed to be fun, right?

Now, coming to the Home button, it takes you to the chat list with your close friends. You can chat with them, exactly like how you would on Instagram Direct. You can text your friends, send photos, videos – along with preferences such as ‘allow replay’ and ‘keep in chat’. Even GIFs and stickers are available inside the chats. You can also video call your friends on Threads. But, to my dismay, what you cannot do on Threads is record a voice message and send it, which you can on Instagram Direct. There is no logical explanation to why this feature has been omitted on Threads. You can also preview photos shared from pages, but videos cannot be played inside the app. This, particularly, annoyed me as my friends and I exchange a lot of meme content, including videos. To watch those videos, I have had to switch to the main Instagram app.

The Home screen also has a camera icon for going back to the camera splash screen. If you swipe left or right on a chat on the Home screen, you will see some options – left swipe lets you remove the friend from the list of close friends while the right swipe opens chat camera. While these features are nifty, I found myself barely using them.

There is also a hamburger-ish menu on the left. Tapping on it opens options such as – ‘Close Friends’, ‘Status’, ‘Customise Camera’, ‘Create Group’, ‘Hidden Groups’, ‘Themes’, ‘Save Original Photos’, ‘Privacy’, and ‘Log Out.’

Status on Threads is interesting. If you are not someone concerned about your privacy and that it is ultimately Facebook accessing it, you can turn on automatic status updates on Threads. What it essentially does is detect your location and device activities to change your current status. The status is denoted by an emoji to the activity or location. For example, if you are at home, a ‘home’ emoji will appear next to your profile photo. If you have put your phone on charging, a ‘thunder’ emoji will appear, and so on.

Since I want my close friends to know what I am doing without explicitly telling them via texts, I rely on Status. But it’s just an approximation of what you could be doing based on the data collected from your device. The Status does not necessarily mean you are doing the same thing. Also, Instagram has a privacy disclaimer for its Status service, in case the user wants to understand how the feature works. But, nit-picking aside, it’s something that suits the needs of millennials who want to keep up with what their friends are up to.

You can also choose the theme of the app from a wide range. Not limited to just the vanilla white mode and dark mode, there are multiple combinations of colours as themes. Using app is not monotonous at all with the themes.

For someone like me, who does not define himself as a millennial, Threads is simplistically fun to use. I would almost never open Instagram Direct for as long as I have Threads installed on my phone. There are a few areas that need improvement – functionality-wise – but design-wise, it’s appealing to Instagram users. Instagram’s concept of instant messaging is clear-headed – to be around photos and videos and not double as another rival to WhatsApp or any other chat app, for that matter. But to be able to attain that, Instagram needs to focus on the productivity of the app.

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