Designing accessible video games

While there has been a movement towards accessible game design in these past few years, we still have a long way to go.

When fast onboarding gets in the way of long-term retention.

Image showing the Threads logo falling off a cliff.

Threads started out like nothing in history.

1,000,000 accounts created in hours, 100,000,000 in two days.


Data by Statista shows how fast it surpassed one million users. It beats every technology we know of, even ChatGPT.

Data showing how Threads took hours to hit 1 million active users and comparing it to Netflix, X, Facebook, Spotify, Instagram and ChatGPT.
Data from Statista, chart by the author.

It’s been seven months from that now, and reality is very different.

According to Similarweb, the number of Daily active users stalled at around 10 million by the end of July.

Numbers for the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024 are hard to find, but I suspect they’re even lower as we can see they were already trending down.

Chart comparing Twitter with Threads from july to august. Active users for Threads fell sharply, while X stayed the same at a much higher level.
Data from SimilarWeb

In business, post-mortem is a retrospective exercise that happens when any project is over. The goal is to gather lessons and avoid falling into similar pitfalls.

Now, Threads is not dead yet, but the fall from its July hype has much to teach us.

I spent hours using the app, reading Reddit comments, big outlet news and user reviews to gather lessons from what went wrong.

Here’s what we can take away as product people.

When fast onboarding gets in the way of long-term retention

When Threads launched, growth experts loved their onboarding strategy.

“Wow, a one-click sign up!” many said.

With one click, your profile is created. With another one, it is launched, already pre-populated.

That’s the starting point of most growth playbooks: less friction means higher conversions. I consider myself a business-minded designer, and I’m guilty of that too.

But it comes with a cost.

3 screenshots showing Thread’s onboarding steps and how easy it was to create your account.

The growth hack was structured in a way that made it mandatory for you to connect your account with your Instagram profile.

They’d just take your profile data, pre populate your new profile and that’s it. You could also jumpstart your experience by connecting with friends from Instagram right away.

Well, here’s the issue: in the internet we keep multiple profiles, each serving a purpose and showing different sides of us.

On LinkedIn we show our professional selves, Instagram is more for friends and family, whereas on TikTok we show our content creator side. You get the idea.

Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman’s theory presented in his book “The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life” says people navigate life wearing various “masks”, like actors in a theatre play.

Now, how does that relate to the Threads case? The mandatory connection didn’t allow users to keep those separate “masks.”

“I was faced with an identity crisis. I’m a suburban mom on Instagram and an industry leader on Twitter”, says one of the iOS App reviews. It perfectly portrays my point here: the onboarding was seamless, but then things got awkward.

A review for Threads on the App Store that says “I was faced with an Identity crisis. I’m a suburban mom on Instagram and an industry leader on Twitter. I don’t mix the two and it felt awkward.”

Sometimes quick onboarding strategies can boost KPIs related to that step, but get in the way of long term retention.

Superhuman’s case is a great counterpoint: they made it mandatory to have a meeting with the CEO as part of their signing up. The goal was to go over the product and learn as much as possible before getting started.

At first glance, this adds friction to the UX. But it also adds a personal touch to the experience and forces people to take their time in getting to know what’s new.

Contrary to our tendency to hate friction, it was a net positive decision for the company as they showed this reduced churn.

Thread’s case is the exact opposite of that.

In social, content is king.

The mandatory attachment to Instagram might’ve had an effect on the content mix of the platform too. In the beginning, normal people were still tiptoeing since they didn’t want to drop their Instagram “mask.” Speaking freely, like many do on X, was unthinkable. It’s hard to be comfortable giving “hot takes” if your 62-year-old uncle is automatically following you.

On the other hand, brands or professional creators went for it at full speed. That’s their job.

This creates an environment where the majority of the content has a salesy, brand-like vibe.

In my research, I found many references to this reality:

Image showing comments on Redditt forums and an article on The New Yorker mentioning how content on Threads sounded salesy.

Another point worth mentioning is Thread’s decision to disfavor hard or political news from its algorithm.

For better or worse, those kinds of discussions drive engagement. A PNAS study found that “posts about political opponents are substantially more likely to be shared on social media.”

There are many sides to the debate on politics and social media. But for the UX, this surely contributed to a less engaging content mix.

Musk-resilient network effects

Network effect is a business principle that states that the more people use a product, the more value it provides to existing users.

This is what makes social media businesses difficult to scale: until you have a certain number of users, it’s hard to generate a critical mass of content and keep people’s attention.

Threads launched at a time when X was experiencing a PR crisis. Elon’s acquisition threw fire on the politics and free speech discussions, and his platform was under scrutiny.

To many, it seemed like the perfect timing, but it wasn’t enough.

The truth is the two platforms are substitutes and when X has over 110 million active users, it’s just too hard for Threads to compete.

Rep. Alessandra Ocasio-Cortez is a good example: she is one of Musk’s strongest detractors and decided to stop threading a couple of weeks in. As we can see on the second chart, that’s exactly when Thread’s usage started to go downhill.

There’s no point in staying on a platform if there’s not enough people to interact with.

On the other hand, her X account is active daily, approaching 15,1K tweets and 13.2M followers.

To top it all off, Thread’s UX lacks anything truly novel. The UI looks sleek, but in terms of functionality, it is a barebones copy of X. There is no difference in organizing principle, no additional and innovative features and nothing exclusive in terms of content.

All in all, things look challenging, but it’s not over for them.

X is still controversial, and many use it against their will, while Meta has the big pockets and talent to keep fighting.

Only time will tell if Threads is here to stay or not.

Further reading

Friction as a Fix
How to build your strategy so it has its own network effects
Threads: The problem with the “everything for everyone” approach

Thanks for reading it! Follow me on X to keep in touch.

The UX of Threads’ downfall was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






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