Instagram Threads preps a Trending Topics feature in battle with X

In an effort to better compete with X (formerly Twitter), Instagram’s Threads is preparing to launch a much-in-demand feature: Trends. A Threads user spotted the update in a screenshot posted accidentally by a Threads employee over the weekend, which showed a numbered list of trending topics as well as how many “threads” were actively discussing each item.

The post was spotted by user Willian Max, who suspects the post was meant to be shared to an internal feed only used by Meta employees. 9to5Mac and Mashable previously reported on the coming addition.

The image shows top trends like Drake’s new album at No. 1 and other current topics, like Billboard’s Latin Music Week or Disney+’s release of Loki Season 2. Instagram has not yet commented on the reports.

However, unlike on X itself, Threads’ main Trends list does not appear to be accompanied by other trending lists by topic, like News, Sports and Entertainment, or a list of Trends that are personalized “For You.”

That said, the addition would be another step toward making Threads more competitive with X as the Instagram-run app aims to capitalize on the continual upheavals and changes on the Elon Musk-owned microblogging network to court users to join Threads instead. It’s not alone in that endeavor — other companies aiming to take on X include open source Mastodon, the Jack Dorsey-backed app Bluesky¬†and startups like Pebble and Spill, among others.

Since its July 5 launch, which saw Threads quickly shoot to 100 million users faster than any other app previously, the network has seen declining usage. But the Threads team has been rapidly rolling out new features to flesh out the app, including support for a chronological feed, a web app, easy profile switching, a way to see liked posts and, critically, support for search. Of course, search alone cannot make Threads an X rival. Instead, it’s the combination of both search and trends that help make X a go-to network for breaking news and timely conversations and debates — something Threads has yet to master.

As The Information recently reported, there are some internal concerns over how much Threads should embrace news, with senior leadership hesitant to do so because of the potential problems it brings. That’s an area that Meta, of course, has had to contend with over the years, where the circulation of news on Facebook divided its user base and allowed for inflammatory and fake news to gain traction.

But in response to a Threads post last week that claimed the company is likely afraid of running news, Instagram head Adam Mosseri shot back, “We’re not anti-news, news is already on threads. We’re simply trying to avoid over-promising and under-delivering to an incredibly powerful group, which is a mistake we’ve made as a company many times in the past.”

That could also explain why Threads didn’t make Trends one of the first features it tackled in its race to become a Twitter/X clone.

To date, Threads has taken a cautious approach to news and trends, having blocked terms like “covid” and “long covid,” “vaccination” and other words, like “sex,” “nude,” “gore” and “porn” from its search feature, The Washington Post reported. And in a recent interview with The Verge, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that he wanted Threads’ culture to be “a more positive, friendly place for discussion,” compared with X, which he said “indexes very strongly on just being quite negative and critical.”

But aiming for “good vibes only” isn’t necessarily a way to develop Threads into an X rival, as news tends to bring out strong reactions and opinions.

Plus, it’s not clear that adding Trends will convince users to abandon X for Threads, as other highly anticipated features did little to move the needle on that front as of yet, including the much-in-demand launch of the web app.

According to Similarweb, Threads’ Android app usage dropped in its first month, from 49.2 million on July 7 to 10.3 million a month later. Other August 2023 metrics from data.ai report that Threads now has a total of 135 million global monthly active users — far short of X’s 666 million, it estimates.