Threads shows Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg is just another faddist

The social platform could be another flameout, underscoring the Meta founder’s erratic, shifting visions over the past decade

| Updated on: Jul 19 2023, 11:27 IST
5 Tech Titans who reacted to Twitter-killer Threads - Jack Dorsey to Elon Musk, check it out
image caption
1/7 On their part, Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, posted this note on the Threads app, “Here we go. We have lots of work to do, but we’re looking to build an open, civil place for people to have conversations.” (REUTERS)
Threads could be Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg’s latest flameout.
2/7 At the same time, Meta Platforms CEO, Mark Zuckerberg said, "Our vision is to take the best parts of Instagram and create a new experience for text, ideas, and discussing what's on your mind.” (AP)
Threads could be Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg’s latest flameout.
3/7 Elon Musk - While Musk did not directly talk about the Threads app, the Twitter chief took a dig at Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comment about how Twitter runs, saying, “It is infinitely preferable to be attacked by strangers on Twitter than indulge in the false happiness of hide-the-pain Instagram.” Musk also responded to a meme with a laughing emoji on Twitter which showed a keyboard with copy-and-paste buttons, implying that Threads was just a copycat of Twitter. (REUTERS)
Threads could be Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg’s latest flameout.
4/7 Jack Dorsey - The former Twitter CEO and current co-founder of Bluesky Social mocked the similar interface of several Twitter alternatives in a tweet. He wrote, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 7 Twitter clones.” (REUTERS)
Threads could be Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg’s latest flameout.
5/7 Bill Gates - Announcing his arrival on the new microblogging platform, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wrote on Threads, “I’m excited to jump into @threadsapp,” while also sharing a GIF of him jumping over a chair. (REUTERS)
image caption
6/7 Carl Pei - Nothing co-founder and CEO Carl Pei has also joined Threads. In his first post, he wrote, “I don’t know if Threads is going to make it or not, but at least it has closed the door for Bluesky.” (Bloomberg)
image caption
7/7 M.G. Siegler - In a tweet, M.G. Siegler, general partner at Google Ventures wrote about Threads, “Sort of strange that Instagram is about to launch Threads to try to eat Twitter just as Retro is starting to eat Instagram Stories…” (Google Ventures)
Threads could be Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg’s latest flameout.
View all Images
Threads could be Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg’s latest flameout. (AP)

Within five days of Meta Platforms Inc.'s launch of Threads on July 5, the app had picked up 100 million users, eclipsing ChatGPT to become the fastest-growing app of all time. Not bad. Plenty of excited commentary has followed, asking if Twitter will be left in the dust. But there's a good chance both services will become irrelevant over time, thanks to the erratic approach of its CEOs.

Early reviews of Threads aren't looking good. The app has been called boring thanks to its heavy-handed content moderation, which bans the snark, trolling and political discourse that has fueled Twitter for years. Many of Threads' 100 million signups aren't posting much either. If this continues, Threads could be Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg's latest flameout. One reason given by the New York Times is that the social media market is 'fickle and faddish.”

Yet Meta's real problem is that Zuck himself is fickle and faddish too.

Take his latest fitness craze. Zuckerberg has lately been posting photos of himself winning jiu-jitsu medals and posing with mixed martial arts stars, all sweat and six-packs. But a year ago the big hobby was hydrofoiling, and before that it was running hundreds of miles. There's nothing wrong with switching one's hobbies every so often, but Zuckerberg's vision for Meta has followed the zigzagging of his amusements, pivoting in 2021 to virtual reality, and now in 2023 back to social media with Threads.

Zuckerberg's itch to chase the next shiny object isn't so dissimilar from Elon Musk's. The blessing: Facebook itself began as a side project at Harvard, when instead of studying for his degree he tinkered late into the night on computer code that would become the world's biggest social network.

The curse: engagement on Meta's biggest money-spinner, Facebook, has slowly dwindled as Zuckerberg's attention has switched between different endeavors like building a global cryptocurrency (a major effort that eventually died) or getting everyone to jump into the metaverse.

In his personal life, Zuckerberg has chased mastery over a range of skills before picking up something else. He studied to become a fluent Mandarin speaker and then a hunter who only ate meat that he killed himself. Then he became a skilled hydrofoiler, and now he practices mixed martial arts, tussling in the gym with some of the world's top fighters. In the past, he's framed these hobbies as annual goals, one of which included a choreographed tour of people's homes in every US state — an effort that looked a bit like the start of some sort of presidential run.

In 2019, he took a more sensible approach to his annual goal: fixing Facebook's platform abuse problems. But then in 2020, he gave up. The annual goals stopped, and Zuckerberg said it was “time to do something different.” The coronavirus hit, and he retreated to his Hawaii compound. By the start of 2022, he was dealing with a terrible reputational blow from a whistleblower's damning allegations about widespread social harms, along with a privacy tweak on iPhones that would cost Facebook billions of dollars in lost revenue and a looming antitrust lawsuit that threatened to break up his company.

Cue another side project, the biggest one yet: building a virtual reality platform. Zuckerberg dug in enthusiastically, posting videos of himself wearing high-spec headsets or trying haptic gloves and neural interfaces — the stuff of science fiction. He changed the company's name, giving it the futuristic new direction of the metaverse, a virtual world where can people interact with one another as 3-D avatars.

When podcaster Joe Rogan asked Zuckerberg why he chose to get into the metaverse, he didn't answer. Then he went on to say that waking up every morning as Facebook's CEO was like getting “punched in the stomach.”

As the new diversion has begun to look more like an escape, Zuckerberg's fervor has fallen on deaf ears. Many consumers still don't want to buy Meta's expensive headsets and neither do businesses. The tech press has panned his efforts. The metaverse has cost more than $10 billion and shows little sign of picking up followers. Zuckerberg's best bet is that Apple Inc. will help energize the space and spark greater interest in using VR with its VisionPro headset. In the meantime, there's Threads, where Zuck has been posting up a storm. On Instagram, the photos of him wearing headsets are gone, while screenshots of Threads and mixed martial arts are up.

Are there more pressing issues that Zuckerberg needs to maintain focus? Sure. But thanks to his control of the company's voting rights, no one, not even Meta's board, can knock him off his perch as chief executive officer and chairman, or do much about his unpredictable steering of the ship.

History may look back on Zuckerberg's grand deviations as being symptomatic of a generation of tech tycoons who, like Musk, are frequently pulled off course by the lure of new innovations and quixotic visions. Zuck would do well to go back to his 2019 goal of making Facebook a safer, more enticing place to socialize and do business, rather than start big new projects like Threads. Facebook has been his golden goose after all. Instead, he seems on course to personify how fickle tendencies can bring unprecedented wealth with one terrific idea — and plenty of flops the rest of the time.

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. A former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, she is author of “We Are Anonymous.”

Follow HT Tech for the latest tech news and reviews , also keep up with us on Twitter, Facebook, Google News, and Instagram. For our latest videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

First Published Date: 19 Jul, 11:27 IST
keep up with tech