Enlarge imagePhoto: STEFANI REYNOLDS / AFP

"Let's go. Welcome to Threads«: With these words on an account of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's parent company Meta has launched its new short message app. On Thursday night, the service, which positions itself as a Twitter alternative, was activated in many places. The start was brilliant, but the app is not yet where it should be in several respects.

Here are the most important questions and answers about threads:

What exactly is threads?

Many people see threads as a Twitter clone or, to put it more nicely, as an alternative to Twitter. And indeed, the similarity of both products is hard to miss in the app itself. In detail, however, there are differences. For example, Threads is closely linked to Instagram.

In the app itself, you get a feed that only shows recommended posts from others and cannot be sorted chronologically. You can set up a profile, publish short texts and photos yourself and reply to the postings of others. In addition, as with Twitter, you will receive notifications about the reactions to your own posts. The maximum length per post is 500 characters, compared to 280 on Twitter. Only paying Twitter Blue subscribers post up to 4000 characters.

Hashtags as a clickable element are not yet available for threads, the search function is limited to usernames. When you set up the app, you get the option to follow all the accounts you follow on Instagram on threads. Of course, this wish is only put into practice when those users become active on threads.

How many people are already using threads?

Just seven hours after the launch, Zuckerberg already reported ten million registrations on his official Threads account. By comparison, Mastodon, which was initially considered a hot candidate for a successful alternative platform after Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter, took around seven years to create ten million accounts.

Some of the most well-known Threads users so far include racing driver Lewis Hamilton, singer Jennifer Lopez, host Ellen DeGeneres, and the world's most subscribed YouTuber, MrBeast.

How do I get the app myself?

Officially, Threads is available in more than 100 countries in the Apple and Google app stores. However, the EU countries, including Germany, are not among them. The reason, apparently, is regulatory issues.

Do interested parties from Germany really have no chance?

Yes, it can be done in a roundabout way – although it may happen that Meta will close some loopholes in its app in the next few days. For our short test, we used an Apple account located in the USA to download threads. We were then able to connect the app to a German Instagram account without any problems, and during the first launch we also had a US VPN running as a precaution. After downloading and setting up, Threads could later continue to be used without a VPN, even after we had logged back into a German Apple account on the iPhone.

On Android, there is an easier but riskier way to install the app: If you want, you can download it to your own smartphone using a so-called APK file past the Play Store. According to »Caschys Blog«, it is then also possible to connect your normal Instagram account with threads in this case. The whole thing was tested with a VPN that ran when the app was first started, according to users of "MobiFlip" it may even be possible without a VPN at all.

A warning, however: If you want to install threads in this way and use sources like APKMirror, you have to allow apps from external sources on your phone: As an Android user, you take a certain security risk when you get apps beyond the Play Store.

Can you log in to threads without an Instagram account?

No, so far this is not possible. Threads is officially an Instagram spin-off. For example, if you have set the photo and video app to hide all "likes" there, the likes will automatically remain hidden in threads as well. The connection between the two services even goes so far at launch that your own Threads account can apparently only be deleted if you delete your own Instagram account. In the Threads app itself, your own profile can only be switched to private and deactivated. In the latter case, all your own content such as posts and likes are hidden from others.

If you don't have an Instagram account and therefore don't have access to the Threads app, you can currently read public discussions via your browser if you find or receive a direct link to a threads conversation on the net.

Also, Is Threads a Mastodon competitor?

According to Instagram boss Adam Mosseri, Threads will support the so-called ActivityPub protocol in the future, on which Mastodon is based and which is intended as a kind of switching point between different social networks. This would allow for some compatibility between the two services. This means that as a Mastodon user, you wouldn't necessarily have to install threads to read up on what stars like Shakira and Lewis Hamilton post on the platform.

If this actually works, it would be an important addition to the decentralized "Fediverse", which was able to gain millions of users but only a few celebrities during the Twitter crisis. Other services such as Tumblr and Wordpress also want to interconnect with the decentralized network.

Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko welcomed the launch of the new competitor and possible cooperation partner. If you are no longer forced to reassemble your circle of friends on each new platform, there will be competition for the best features instead of locking users up on one platform, says Rochko. He assured that Meta can display advertising in its own app – but it will not be displayed in other apps and platforms.

Are there any more Twitter alternatives? And should Elon Musk be worried?

With its connection to Instagram, Threads is likely to have one of the best chances of becoming dangerous to Twitter. But there are other products: Bluesky is currently collecting investor money, and Post has been considered a possible successor to Twitter in recent months. We present various other apps here.

But pure user numbers and functions do not make a real Twitter replacement. Even after Elon Musk's takeover, the network was and is a kind of "world public" that results from the interplay of lesser-known users, celebrities, media and multipliers and then spills out of the network into other channels. Such a construction cannot simply be copied, it must grow.

pbe/mbö/tmk/dpa/AFP