Untangle Threads

Threads, a Twitter equivalent from Instagram, just launched. Ever since Musk bought Twitter and proved his relentless efforts to burn it down, numerous contenders have risen up and Threads is the latest one in town.

I’ve tried a few of these alternatives, but Threads presents a unique dilemma—when it prompts me to follow everyone I am following on Instagram.

I’ve been using both Twitter and Instagram for many years but with different purposes. To me, Instagram is for life and friends while Twitter is for following designers I admire and keeping up with industry news and trends. One is full of people I know in real life and the other is all famed strangers in my profession. One is like a house party and the other a town square. They have different connotations and thus feel different to me.

Therefore, when Threads offered me to merge the two worlds, I felt an immediate, knee-jerk resistance to it—before I even thought about what it actually meant. I was confused: do I use it as a text companion to Instagram, or do I continue to use it as what I use Twitter for? Reasonably, one might ask: why not both, what a big deal? In fact, more seem to celebrate the merge than those who complain.

There are only two apps that I regularly post stuff on. One is Instagram, and the other is Weibo, a Chinese Twitter counterpart where I have only a handful of old friends following me. I will dump whatever random things on my mind there in whichever language strikes at the moment. However, when I look at what I post there, it’s not really like secrets or off-limit things that I have to hide from people at all costs. It wouldn’t be the end of the world even if some distant acquaintance stumbles upon it. I realize it’s less about what I say, but how safe I feel about saying anything at all.

Here is the thing: as someone who tends to fall on the extreme side of introversion (and by this I mean the Asian scale not the American scale), my mental barrier to letting something out grows exponentially with the number of audience. The more people there are, the less I am inclined to speak. The larger the forum is, the less I feel like it’s for me. I love dumping things on Weibo because the small group of my friends has made it a safe space where I trust that however incomplete or whimsical my words are, I will be heard and not be judged. This applies to the biosphere, too—I know I trust someone when I stutter and rush words out of my mouth before they are properly sculpted.

It seems my willingness to post content on social media comes down to if it feels safe for me to say things on my mind without much filtering. Generally, the fewer people watching, the better 1. No wonder I resisted the idea of combining Twitter and Instagram, a hodgepodge of another even larger crowd sounds like an unappealing place to hang.

Of course, everyone perceives boundaries differently and has different social preferences. Some rejoice in the merge and feel relieved that they don’t need to maintain multiple personalities. But from my experience, trying to unify my internet personas and reduce myself into one profile is a lost cause.

For one, as an in-betweener who speaks multiple languages and has lived in different places, the diversity of my identities inevitably means that people I care about are scattered across platforms (either it’s because of norms or choice or inaccessibility).

For another, humans are just complex and multi-faceted. I used to struggle with whether the me on one platform was more “real” than the others. But over time, I just came to accept the fact that different facets of me can’t be perfectly dovetailed together or are even outright contradictory to each other. The serious me who writes design commentary on my blog is just as real as the light-hearted me who posts fleeting murmurs within a small crowd. Sometimes I can hold different pieces of myself together pretty well, sometimes I cannot. And that’s okay.

After all, the self is never fixed but constantly evolving and shape-shifting. From the view of relational ontology, the self and the world are an inseparable integral whole. The self does not exist as a bounded being in the world, it only emerges from its interactions with the world. In this sense, there’s no self that’s not social at the same time. We are our relationships.

Back to this heated war of socials. Honestly, my first impression of Threads was...not positive. Not sure if it’s because of the algorithmic home feed or the Instagram graph-porting that made it feel less like a fresh reboot, but the whole thing felt noisy, loud, and crowded. In contrast, Posts, another contender from the team, gives off a completely different vibe, one that’s more relaxed, calming, and focused. It imbues me with the hope that there might be an alternative model between a house party and a town square: “a café in the city center”, as Posts describes itself.

It could be my introverted nature that draws me to small and intimate communities, but I think what Chia said about building for smaller audiences helps move towards an internet that values maintenance rings true:

We must move towards an internet that makes easier and more legible the process of carrying something through time. Building things for smaller audiences and resisting expansionism—the constant need to scale—and beginning with smaller, intimate groups of people truly helps. It’s in specific, smaller scale communities that we get people to care for things deeply, truly feel connected with their technologies and communities, and subsequently put in the effort to invest in these spaces and put in the labor of maintenance.

I like to bet on small teams because they offer us an exemplary antithesis to scale, because they show us we don’t always have to make something big and we don’t always have to grow, either as a product or as an organization. Ultimately, maybe it is indeed a better future where there’s no one giant platform for everyone, but different small communities thriving on their own terms, where different tools and people bring out and light up different parts of us.

As for how I’d handle Threads, what will likely happen is that I use it in replacement of Twitter with the only change of following a few more friends, if Design Twitter ended up settling. Part of me wishes this is the case if Meta did deliver its promise to support federation and make data more interoperable.

But no matter how the plot unfolds, Twitter falling or Threads fading, you can always find me here in this little corner of the internet that’s my own website, and you can subscribe one link away: with the good old RSS.


  1. What’s funny is that “less people watching” only needs to be a feeling and not a fact. Like this blog, despite it’s public on the world wide web, I am comfortable of taking anything off chest because I am addressing no particular audience.