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Show HN: Thread – Ad-free social networking and iMessage alternative (thread-app.com)
35 points by danfang 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

Hey HN,

I'm Daniel, founder of Thread.

I started Thread two months ago because I believe current social media and social networks are built in a way that harms our ability to meaningfully connect with one another. They're highly addictive, superficial, and socially isolating. They also run a reputation of violating user privacy and selling it to third parties.

I strongly believe in ad-free, private social networking as an alternative. It's all about building and maintaining relationships with the people closest to you. If this sounds interesting, please try out the app! It's still very early, beta software.

On pricing: I think advertising is out of the question. It's a strong misalignment of incentives in trying to deliver long term value for end users. I have some ideas here, but the most obvious thing that comes to mind is a subscription based service (say ~$10/year).

I would love to hear your feedback (questions, comments, suggestions) on what I'm building.

Reach out to me personally at daniel@thread-app.com.


We may disclose personal information to: ... third parties, including agents or sub-contractors, who assist us in providing information, products, services or direct marketing to you.

There's no marketing in iMessage, certainly not based on the things I type into iMessage.

Also, to be clear, "marketing" is advertising. You say "ad-free" but then you give yourself the right to advertise.

There's also nothing I can find about end-to-end encryption, which is one of the best features of iMessage. I almost exclusively use iMessage because I know Apple isn't spying on me. When friends message me on Instagram, I reply in iMessage.

Founder here.

This is great feedback. My interpretation of the clause is that we can use services like Mailchimp to send you marketing materials for when we release new products and features. These would be strictly opt-in.

I'm not a legal expert, but I will try to come up with a policy that more clearly expresses that you will NOT receive marketing about third-party services and our only usage of these services would be to update you all on our new product offerings.

We're considering offering E2E encryption, but we believe that we can deliver a ton of value by allowing users to search through their messages and for us to efficiently organize and categorize your content. I think there is a middle ground where we can encrypt non-pertinent data, but still preserve metadata so we can provide some intelligence on top of the content you choose to share on the platform.

> I'm not a legal expert, but I will try to come up with a policy that more clearly expresses that you will NOT receive marketing about third-party services and our only usage of these services would be to update you all on our new product offerings.

You do not need to be a legal expert to state this in your policy in plain language.


"We will collect your contact information for the purpose of updating you about this product."

"We will not collect analytic data."

"If this policy changes, you will be notified 60 days before data collection begins."

You do not need to predicate openness and honesty on legal expertise.


It now reads: "We may disclose personal information to: third parties, including agents or sub-contractors, who assist us in sending direct marketing about our new products and features"

What I meant about legal expertise is that we don't want to be in violation of our privacy policy if we decide to use tools to understand our users better, or if we decide to email users about new products and features. Which is why I left some room in the privacy policy to enable such features.

I'm definitely not your target audience here so please take this with a grain of salt (as I might misunderstand what people value about privacy), but isn't "using tools to understand our users better" exactly what privacy-first people _don't_ want? Gathering that kind of metadata about what users on the platform are doing, instead of making it end-to-end encrypted so you (as the provider) can't see into what people are doing?

> We may disclose personal information

This alone will be enough of a deal breaker for privacy nuts, such as myself. If I'm going to use your service, you just champion privacy. This means no marketing gimmicks.

Sorry. For me this comes no way close to being an iMessage alternative. Even if you become a privacy champion, you still need to expect us to trust your servers, which is a tricky thing without end to end encryption.

Maybe an alternate model is to get funding from big corporate sponsorship and have a distributed network that could be hosted on our own droplets (using open source, of course). You can then have a paid hosted saas for those not technically ready to self host. Until there's a solution out there that does just that, I'm very unlikely to bite.

Yeah - I don't see Thread as the right product for privacy nuts, as you refer to yourself. There are better services for that, like Signal.

I imagine Thread as a company that focuses more on delivering products that allow people to build more meaningful relationships and connections in a way that benefits their long term mental/social health. I believe we can do that in a way that delivers an 80/20 on privacy too, by not using targeted advertising, and having 0 incentives to sell your data.

If you're not willing to trust our servers, I don't think the product is right for you. Hopefully we build trust as a company that does right by our users in the long run, unlike what I'm seeing from companies today.

still leaves wiggle room. Suppose a "direct marketing sub-agent" opens up shop, helps you send a couple of emails, so technically they are assisting you in sending direct marketing, but then that allows you to maybe sell all of your users' personal info to that third party who just set up shop out of a vacuum.

Even if you have good intentions and don't sell them the information, what's the guarantee that these third parties won't use the information you provided them for personal gain anyway?

Two things.

1. We'll be transparent about the services that we use. That way you'll know who your data is being shared to, and what data will be shared.

2. We'll try to take an Apple-like approach of anonymizing data as much as possible and only sharing the few pieces of information we need to deliver a better product.

I'm sorry there's no fool-proof way to guarantee perfect data privacy - at some point you'll have to trust us to do the right thing with your data. We hope that our incentives will . be aligned. Our service is predicated on keeping your information private and that's what you'll be paying for.

> We're considering offering E2E encryption, but we believe that we can deliver a ton of value by allowing users to search through their messages and for us to efficiently organize and categorize your content.

Why must you organize the data? I’d like to be able to perform searches client-side, just like iMessage.

I think you're right that you can probably get some value out of pure client-side search and parsing. Here's my take:

1. I like being able to search through old archives and interactions that might have happened a long time ago. I believe there's value in preserving history and being able to easily look back on it.

2. We can provide value by doing basic message parsing. Right now, if your message includes a Youtube link or Spotify URL we'll give you a player to view that content in-line. If your message has a Yelp link, we'll pull the restaurant details such as where it is, how expensive it is, etc...

Our mission is to provide the best service to allow people to build meaningful, long-term relationships, because _that_ is a need that's not being addressed. A lot of the features we want to offer will require some centralized processing. If you want a purely anonymized, E2E encrypted service, I would recommend Signal or Telegram.

You probably will need to take advantage of network effect in some way. I.e. if I have a $10/year paid account and I create a group, the person joining my group can join it for free, however if they are trying to join another group on their own then it would get them to pay. Or free for X period of time, because getting a person on the platform to start is hard.

I registered but I don't know anyone that has it so I have to convince people to set it up. Maybe allow public groups? Or maybe not.

Looks rather cool!

I created a group and wanted to update the name, I was confused by how it worked, I thought I'd type it in and click the back arrow seeing no button. Realized later I have to tap "Done" on my keyboard. You might want to consider adding a green "Done" button below or near the "Delete Group" button even though it's slightly redundant, it's less confusing.

I'm trying it on Android. Not sure how I can convince friends to try this out though, have a hard time getting people to use Signal. How's this compare to iMessage in regards to encryption btw? I know encryption isn't entirely trivial to cover this early on.

Edit: Also when I click "Contacts" and I deny permission on Android it crashes the app. Might want to handle that case.

These will both be addressed in the next release. Thanks for the due diligence.

No problem, it looks great otherwise!

I'd say charge for certain easy to develop features. like number of circles or extended message history, or creating ephemeral messages, or viewing ephemeral messages twice, extended emotions to add to someone else's message (instead of just a heart or a laughing face, more wider range)

and maybe less easy to develop features like animated stickers

Yeah, I'm definitely considering a freemium model. My own struggle is that I believe deep, interpersonal communication should be for everyone - it feels wrong to "exclude" people from certain mediums of expression just to make a profit. I have some more 'experimental' ideas that I think would allow Thread to remain free at its core, but still charge users for additional, advanced services.

This is super cool. How long did it take you to build it.

I started building out the product in early July, so it's been about two full months of work.

I recently quit my full time job as a software engineer because I really believe this problem requires my full engagement and devotion!

I apologize for not really having anything to enhance the discussion, but I like what you're saying and the ideologies you express; I thought you should know.

Some blunt questions for you:

iMessage doesn't have ads (and honestly i cannot see it ever changing), but it does have one hell of an ecosystem. Why is yours better?

How do you propose to enter a very crowded space and get enough users to pay you keep the lights on when every alternative is free?

If you're actually a WhatsApp alternative instead of an iMessage alternative, why are you better than Signal? It's free, and they're a nonprofit with a warchest and really, truly no incentive to keep any metadata about you at all.

1. We're not restricted to the Apple ecosystem. A majority of the world's users are on Android. There's a lot of evidence that the exclusivity of iMessage is causing anxiety and stress in certain social circles: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20715188

2. We plan to offer a very different kind of product than "simple secure messaging" (WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram). We want to truly capture meaningful, social interactions beyond just quick messages. I want to build a service that better ties in event planning, payment splitting, and location sharing into your groups. An experience like Google photos where you can build shared albums in your groups. One where sharing music and videos feels natural and you can have "shared" experiences. We plan to integrate with a ton of third parties to offer intelligence on top of your messages (restaurant ratings, flight tracking, etc).

3. We want to build a better platform on top of messaging. Plugins and bots are pretty useless right now. We think we can offer apps and services that live in your conversations in really meaningful ways. It will be strictly opt-in, so users are choosing which services they want to integrate with.

We're starting with messaging because that's the starting point for meaningful group interactions, but I don't see anyone else in the space filling the gap for the things I mentioned.

> We plan to integrate with a ton of third parties to offer intelligence on top of your messages

You need to be real careful about how you do this, and be mindful of this not becoming a privacy leaking side channel

I agree, everyone loves giphy, and talking to bots... or using custom Slack / Discord commands, but those are opt-in and predictable. Anything beyond that would be dangerous.

I like the effort, but honestly there's tons of apps that are cross-platform, free, and can do everything imessages can, but better. Telegram is just one example.

I see adoption as a biggest problem. I personally tried to migrate to Telegram and failed to convince even my own wife to give it a try, since imessages work for her and all her friends are there and why bother.

Definitely the biggest problem is adoption.

My friends/coworkers aren't just going to jump onto another app just for a cooler feature. We use Messenger and everything is just fine. If we need to we can use Venmo/Calendar invite and that's it.

Looks interesting. I see there’s web for desktop use, but have you considered bringing the iOS app to Mac with Catalyst?

We'd probably go more cross platform with something like Electron. It makes sense given our heavy React stack.

> Thread works seamlessly on iOS, Android, and web browsers. We're not a walled garden.

There isn't an API, data export, or a way to spin up my own Thread server. Thread is a walled garden.

Additionally, I can't find a way to delete my account.

Shoot me an email at daniel@thread-app.com with your account details and we'll get your account deleted.

I don't believe average users gain much from federated, distributed, decentralized services (after you factor in the cost and limitations of such systems), but we'll consider it if there's a lot of demand.

There's a long road ahead of building trust with users, but I think if we're intentional about being the most open, transparent social networking company, we can build that trust with our actions and track record.

I appreciate the effort but as a person who has quit all social media, these more intimate, private spaces are served by messengers. For me, specifically, it's Telegram and it does an absolutely bang up job of it.

You're going to be outstripped in sheer features here to say nothing of stickers, round videos, the upcoming transaction layer in the TON, bots for pretty much everything, so on and so forth.

Social media is just a name for "broadcast widely", which has never been my interest. Messengers are that smaller scale.

Thanks for your input. I've never been really satisfied with the level of interaction of messengers. They usually end up as a firehose of short messages, where everything meaningful and important is lost in the noise. It's good for quick notifications, for sure.

What I'm imagining, for the types of things that I like to do with friends and family, is more oriented around long term social interactions. This means being able to plan and view events, view and split payments, and build a persistent group album -- to start. When I'm sharing videos, music, or recommendations, I don't want it to get lost as soon as it reaches the top of the screen.

This is where messaging falls short and I believe it can be supplemented by a lot of the features of traditional social networks.

Did you ever use the short lived social network site from Microsoft (I think)? It was designed as a room that people shared and you could post messages and photos and play music that everybody would hear.

I don't remember the name, but I think it had a number in it.

What's the reasoning for tying my account to a phone number? Personally it's a huge turn-off for me.

1. If you need to reset your pw at any point, we need either your email or phone number. We don't ask for your email. A phone number is most likely tied to a real person.

2. It's a unique identifier that allows you to add your existing contacts more easily. It's much more convenient than trying to figure out the usernames of all your friends and family.

3. It's harder to automate creation of users by requiring a valid phone number, versus usernames (and potentially even email).

On the surface, it looks similar to Telegram groups. What are the differences?

Isn't Facebook starting a communication product called Thread?

Do you have stickers?

Furries aren't going to touch your service without stickers and they seem to be running the internet these days.

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