It was with us for but a moment, and it was glorious while it lasted.
Earlier today, it seemed that Threads had changed its mind on enabling users to search for topics chronologically, with some users seeing a new toggle in the latest version of the app which enabled them to sort search results by “Latest”, if they so chose.
As you can see in this example, some people were able to opt-in to having their Threads search results shown in order of date posted, which could have been a big advance in enabling users to keep track of real-time discussions and trends in the app.
Though sadly, it was shortlived, with Threads removing the option shortly after, explaining that it was mistakenly released to a limited subset of users.
As explained by the Threads team:
"Earlier today, an internal prototype was accidentally made available for a small number of people - this is not something we’re testing externally at this time."
Which, based on the Threads team's past statements, is not overly surprising.
Just last month, when asked about enabling search results to be filtered by date, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri essentially ruled it out, saying that it would “create a substantial safety loophole”.
As per Mosseri:
“To clarify, having a comprehensive list of *every* post with a specific word in chronological order inevitably means spammers and other bad actors pummel the view with content by simply adding the relevant words or tags.”
That’s been a common tactic on other social apps, with spammers targeting popular hashtags and search terms with their junk, in order to get more exposure among unsuspecting users.
The Threads team has been working to negate this, which is also why it’s still yet to add a trending topics display, as both could alter the posting incentives in the app.
Worth noting, too, that Threads limits topic tags to one per post for the same reason, with all of these elements potentially impacting the user experience in negative ways.
So why is Threads even testing these things at all?
Well, it's likely that Meta knows that if it wants the app to truly compete with X, it'll need to facilitate real-time discovery, and connection to evolving news stories as they happen.
People go to X to get the latest insights into what’s going on at any given moment, and that often won’t be what’s shown to them within their own feeds. Trending topics enables broader discovery in this respect, while being able to sort search results in order is also crucial for engaging with real-time events.
Which includes sports, one of the key targets for the Threads team in unseating X’s dominance.
Threads has made a big push on NBA discussion in particular, even sponsoring the recent In-Season Tournament, in order to boost brand awareness among NBA fans.
But while NBA-related discussion is increasing in the app, staying up to date with the latest game scores is difficult, because you currently can't sort the search listing to show you the latest updates.
I suspect that this is one of the key use cases that the Threads team is now looking to solve for, which as Threads notes, will also inevitably come with an increased risk of spam. But does that outweigh the benefits of being able to track events in real-time? I would guess that it doesn't, and clearly, they are still trying to find a viable solution on this front.
But unfortunately, it's not there just yet.
I do think that, eventually, both search sorting and trending topics, in some form, will be required, and it does seem like we are going to see both options sooner rather than later, given the level of work that's gone into this new project, which has now been rolled back.
The question is, can you enable such without facilitating junk? We may find out soon.