Here’s a question I’ve been wondering about:
Is Elon Musk trying to destroy Twitter?
I’m not sure why the new owner of the social media app would want to do that. Yet, if the decisions he’s making are any indication, it almost seems like that’s the plan.
The blue check has a decidedly 2010 feel to it. That was when some of us cared about verified accounts, which became a possibility around that time (or at least that’s when some of us started thinking about it — the blue check system actually launched in 2009).
It’s also about when Klout debuted, the vanity system to let others know how important you are. I’m not sure when we stopped caring about it, but the progression went something like this: First, we thought verification and Klout scores meant something. So we worked on our follower counts, posted constantly, and started babysitting our social feeds. One day, maybe around 2014 or so, some of us (me included) realized it was all a waste of time.
We realized, too, that there are two types of Twitter users. There are famous people and then there’s the rest of us. Like any true democracy, as opposed to a tyranny or a monarchy, we all know an app does not live or die based on Kim Kardashian’s posting schedule. It’s when the masses flock to an app and it becomes part of the culture. That’s when real progress happens. Twitter has stuck around, and so has Kim, but I’m starting to doubt whether it has any real cultural cachet anymore.
What else has Musk done? Banned remote work. Fired half the staff and a few executives including the CEO. Told everyone the road ahead will be tough and bankruptcy is not out of the question. Suggested that half the revenue for Twitter has to come from subscriptions. (By the way, that’s like saying half your revenue should come from people paying for junk mail.)
And then there’s the failed advertising model. Musk seems to be cannibalizing it as opposed to enabling it. Maybe he doesn’t think nurturing advertiser relationships is that important. At Tesla, Musk is used to making a stellar product worth buying. Twitter is free; it barely makes a product at all. We are the product.
For a company like Twitter that’s built entirely on the idea of making money when you show ads to users, you would think advertising would be a little more of a focus.
It almost seems like Elon Musk views Twitter as a democratization zone, a place for open and free speech on a platform accessible to everyone. The problem is that this is also true of Linux, Wikipedia, and the local library.
Twitter is a commercial business. It can’t be entirely open and free, unless it wants to be a non-profit. You also can’t have both worlds: a commercial business trying to sell blue check verifications and a non-profit trying to claim openness and freedom. They can’t co-exist.
Musk recently posted about how Twitter will do a lot of dumb things. (Requiring 80-hour work weeks and canceling the free food might be two of them.) He seems to be hinting at a rebuilding of the empire. In order to grow, the company has to reinvent itself, and there will be a lot of collateral damage when that happens.
Unfortunately, I don’t think social media users think that way. We jump onto apps like BeReal because they do something new and fun. We don’t want or expect anyone to do a foundational realignment or work on the architecture. If there’s work to do on an app it’s already too late. We also don’t care how the company makes money. The product is either worthwhile or has worn out its welcome. There is no middle ground.
So what is Elon Musk doing?
I wonder sometimes. Maybe he bought the company so he could fire the executive team. Maybe he believes the open source model for software has some viability in the social media market, despite the revenue potential of that being almost zero. Maybe he just likes to create memes and wanted to make sure that was possible.
I will say: I’m fascinated by the dumpster fire.
I want to see if Twitter can become the Tesla of social media, but I’m also curious if this is just another apocalypse of technology. I mean, in addition to Facebook.