That Sink-In Feeling
The one year anniversary of "let that sink in" day
When Elon Musk stepped into
In that sense, he hasn't failed to deliver.
A year from "let that sink in" day, there's barely been a quiet moment in the so-called public town square. That's an understatement — for much of the year, the platform has been buried in chaos, at times, barely hanging on by a thread. (Yes, that's a Meta pun). While Musk's spontaneous product strategy — i.e., making decisions at 3 am while sitting on the toilet scrolling X — has never failed to cause outrage among the user base, it has often failed to improve the product itself.
To mark the year, I thought it would be fun to pull out the biggest changes, features and decisions, marking each as a win or fail, to examine how the company has fared. (I'm sure you know the answer to that).
Buying Twitter — Fail
Musk recently allowed employees to buy shares in X at a private valuation of $19 billion. That's down over 55% from the $44 billion he paid for the company. Ouch. Worse than overpaying was the fact he didn't want to buy Twitter; he just ran his mouth and then realized the Twitter board was going to hold him accountable for his actions through the courts. An owner who doesn't want to be there? Off to a bad start.
The rebrand — Fail
As I will write X a lot, it makes sense to talk about the rebrand. In my opinion, this is a failure on all fronts. Twitter and its associated words, like Tweet and Retweet, were baked into the social discourse. Musk may have overpaid, but he did buy a well-established brand that had weaved its way into the cultural fabric. It was perhaps the only thing of value Mush had gotten with his money. And he threw it away, destroying 15 years of brand legacy in favor of a whimsical obsession with the letter X. There must have been a few awkward discussions with partners after X.com appeared on the bank statements. It's also resulted in a lawsuit from a company called X Social Media. All round, just bad. Bad logo, bad name and bad brand equity.
Twitter Blue — Fail
Twitter Blue was Musk's flagship concept on arrival. At the heart of it was the idea that the most desirable features — blue checks, edit buttons and algo boosting — could be put behind a paywall. Who wouldn't want to pay for the blue tick, after all? Turns out, the majority. Barely anyone has subbed, and it's failed to make a dent in the huge hole left by the advertising exodus. The service is languishing around the 650,000 mark. That means it generates around $5 million annually, a far cry from a) the ad revenue, over $4 billion in 2022, and b) the $44 billion Musk needs to claw back eventually.
There are additional tiers incoming, including a premium version that will remove ads altogether. That is a tempting proposition, but will that make a difference? My guess is no.
Edit button — Win
The number of times over the years I've had to immediately copy, delete and then repost a tweet because of a spelling mistake or important missing grammar. No more! (If you pay up). The edit button is a feature that should have long been added. I understand the concerns — people can engage with a tweet only to see it change to something less savory — but with the time window and the edit history available to view, it seems this feature has remained free of wide abuse. Good riddance typos.
Longer tweets — Fail
When Twitter moved from 140 to 240 characters, it was initially met with backlash. The company acknowledged that "We understand since many of you have been tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters." God help those people's emotions now. Musk wasn't happy with the constraints (what a surprise). For paying users, the limit became 1,000, then 3,000 and now it's a staggering 10,000.) The problem is that the new length completely changes the entire point of the app and removes the nuance and self-editing required to post succinct, snappy thoughts. Nobody wants to read sprawling 'broetry' on X.
Removing legacy checkmarks — Fail (in execution)
One of the first real points of controversy was Musk's decision to remove legacy checkmarks (the ones that had them already). The check mark had a bit of a strange history. It was never meant to be a status symbol, but the way Twitter handed them out (and how little they handed out) created an exclusive club. The inhabitants of the club claimed they didn't care about the check, but it was apparent the moment Musk threatened to remove it that they cared a lot.
Musk's fumbled handling created discontent from the off and upset most power users. Many quit the platform. The retracting and attempts to repair the damage were messy. Had he left the legacy alone and chosen to change the color of their check to separate from Blue users, all would have been well.
Community Notes — Win (when used correctly)
I like this feature. It was there already, but the previous leadership of Twitter relied on moderation teams and the Trust and Safety Council, which, of course, Musk either fired or cut to the bare bones. Putting moderation in the hands of users is risky — and not without problems or the chance of it backfiring — but on the whole, most users who add notes seem to do so with a genuine interest in clarifying posts. Musk claims “Community Notes will be the single best source of truth on the internet, period.” I wouldn’t go that far. And, with Musk's latest announcement that posts that get 'community noted' will not be eligible for monetization, expect some misuse to follow.
The Doge incident — Fail
What's the main benefit of spending $44 billion on a social media network? Pumping the price of the shitcoins! On a random Monday, we all woke to see the Twitter logo replaced with the Shiba Inu Dogecoin brand.
The change came without warning or explanation. Aside from some cryptic tweets and replies by Musk — including this meme, which I'll admit did make me laugh —there was no reasoning given. Whatever the reason, the outcome of The Dogefather's actions was a totally predictable surge in the price — over 30% in a single day. Pumping shitcoins is not a wise leadership move and drives home that the platform is now a billionaire's play toy.
Link drama — Fail
Musk's petty decision to choke the reach of news outlets, block links to rivals such as Substack, and now remove headlines of any linked posts is plain dumb. It revealed more about Musk — petulant, childish, immature and insecure — than anything else. Platforms work best when they work in tandem, not in isolation. As someone who tries to utilize multiple platforms and channel traffic to and from each, removing this connection left a sour taste.
Leadership changes — Fail
Earlier in his leadership, Elon posted, "Should I step down as head of Twitter? I will abide by the results of this poll." 57.5% said he should. In a later interview, when asked about this, he said he had stepped down, and the CEO was now his dog.
Since then, he has appointed Linda Yaccarino. It's not been great. I feel sorry for her in some sense. She signed up to try and rebuild Twitter's legacy and restore advertisers' faith, only to have the actual legacy and the very thing she is selling to advertisers — the Twitter brand — ripped out from under her. Now she's flogging a dead horse sprouting aimlessly about an everything app. A recent car crash interview didn't help. I don't expect her to be around for too long.
War on the bots — Fail (for now)
Musk appears to lose sleep over bots. During the takeover talk, it was all he could speak about. He wanted to wage war on bots. Well, his war isn't going to plan. One look at your DMs or one scroll through responses to a viral post will tell you the platform is still swamped with fake accounts.
It does appear Musk is ramping up his battle plans, though, with potential ID verification and a $1 per year fee. Two problems: few seem willing to give their money to the platform, even fewer their personal data, and $1 is surely too cheap to deter the people behind mass-bot campaigns? Going down this route could prove to be a Paywall of Death. As I wrote a few editions ago,
"Despite feature-loading the premium offering, admittedly with some completely pointless extras, the uptake has been low. So, why would users pay to use the very basic level of the site? The answer is obvious — they won't."
UI changes — Fail
God. At one point, you could see Reposts, Quotes, Likes, Comments, Views, and Bookmarks under every Tweet. It was visual diarrhea. For a platform that's meant to be easily digestible, stuffing it with data and numbers is nonsensical. Rumors are that it's soon to be changing to views only. If those changes come into play, I'd count that as a win, though one could argue it’s the wrong metric to focus on. The other big UI change, the For You tab, is trash.
Ad revenue to creators — Win
Duh. If you're among those getting payouts, you're now getting money for posting the same shitposting you did anyways. I can't see any fault with paying out to the creators on the platform despite lots of moaning (even from those who are getting the payments). The process seems scattered and lacks transparency, but that's par for the course with X. They’ve paid over $20 million to creators, and expect that number to rise significantly. Take that money while you can.
Platform growth — Fail
Despite what Musk and others keep telling you, the platform is struggling. In July, data showed that traffic was tanking. According to the Wall Street Journal, daily active users decreased 16% in the last year, while almost every other platform had increased. Exclusive data from Big Technology shows that number is down 13% since Musk's takeover. It's been interesting to see Musk talking about 'active minutes' a lot — clearly, that's the one metric that looks good in the backend and is being used to champion the platform. No other social platform shouts as much about active minutes. I wonder why.
Ads — Fail in all senses
After Musk's arrival and a very rocky start to his tenure (remember when Mario was flipping the bird?), advertisers got the hell out of town. The platform is still trying to recover.
Currently, the platform has negative cash flow largely due to the ~50% drop in advertising revenue. But even the ads on the platform now suck; it's low-quality fodder like they are choosing from the B-list of advertisers. I hope the platform can move away from ads, but with Blue uptake so bad, it seems an impossible task—lots of sucking up to do to get the biggest spenders back onside. The platform’s future depends on it.
Final score: 12 fails, 3 wins
The future of X — Fail?
During the announcement of the rebrand to X, then-new CEO Linda offered an insight into the direction ahead,
"X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities. Powered by AI, X will connect us all in ways we're just beginning to imagine. There's absolutely no limit to this transformation. X will be the platform that can deliver, well….everything.
Or, to translate that yogababble, X wants to become an everything app. Everything we can already do, with apps that are perfectly adequate, but with an X slapped on it and AI strapped to it, because why not? What’s clear is that Musk is moving the platform away from the core experience it's known for into uncharted territory. (It’s worth reading the transcript of the recent all-hands, much of which will make your eyes bleed.)
The problem is that when trying to do everything, you often end up doing nothing.
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