Is Threads already unraveling? No, but it needs the desktop to survive

(Image credit: Getty Images)

For Threads, 'mobile first' may not be the best call.

What a wild week it's been for Meta's new social media platform. The app launched like a rocket on iOS and Android a little over a week ago, and quickly amassed usage numbers that would thrill any startup app.

At last count it had 100 million users, but a new report showing that engagement has fallen away dramatically since launch reminds us that social media success can be fleeting, and social media users are incredibly fickle. It's also another signal that the only way to save Threads and ensure its long-term survival is for it to launch desktop access on Windows and Mac through your favorite browser ASAP.

Oh, the irony. A decade ago, Meta CEO (and Facebook Founder) Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook would become a "mobile first" company, expertly steering the popular social media platform toward our handheld devices (though they never left the desktop behind). It was the right move. More people were visiting Facebook through phones than the desktop and, in that same year, Facebook paid $1 billion for the mobile-only and wildly popular Instagram photo-sharing app.

It would be foolish to argue that Meta should now become a desktop-first company, but a bit more focus on the desktop for its newest social platform might be a good idea.

I had this thought, and not for the first time, after reading about the latest Threads usage and engagement stats from SensorTower in the report linked above. The market research firm told CNBC that Threads engagement tumbled by 50% and, according to Similarweb, active daily users fell by a quarter since peak usage on July 7.

“While there was intense interest in checking out the app initially, not every user has made a habit of visiting Threads as often as they might other social apps,” Similarwebb's David Carr told CNBC.

Personally, I fully expected Threads to cool off. There was no way it could grow at 100 million-new-users-a-week-clip indefinitely. Obviously, I expected it to settle into a slower but more steady growth pattern. The growth is likely hurt, in part, by Threads' lack of availability in the European Union, where strict data collection rules mean Meta has little interest in offering it there and collecting even more fines.

However, I think there's something else at work here.

Clearly, desktop access couldn't hurt Threads and I'm betting it will help.

As I noted in my recent Threads post, after I returned from vacation where I never took out my laptop, my Threads usage tumbled. Why? There's no desktop app. Twitter's been on the desktop almost from Day 1. During a typical weekday, I probably use Twitter through Windows or the Mac far more than I do on my iPhone.

In the week since I started using Threads, I'm off of it for most of the workday.

I don't know if this is the primary reason that Threads usage has fallen, but since we've had five full weekdays to see how it flies, I think there's a chance the lack of desktop access plays a role.

Clearly, desktop access couldn't hurt Threads and I'm betting it will help.

It won't solve everything. Threads is riding the same wave that Bluesky enjoyed before it but at a large network scale. That probably means it can't disappear from public consciousness as quickly, but the good work Meta's done thus far to make Threads useful, reliable, fun, and interesting, clearly is not enough to keep the momentum going. Threads needs the desktop, and a steady stream of updates, to keep users engaged and growth strong on all screens.

At least I think that's what it will take.

Lance Ulanoff
US Editor in Chief

A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.