Science

Wanting to make Twitter profitable, Elon Musk risks destroying the platform

When the richest man in the world completed his purchase of Twitter, there were already signs that a profit-focused version of Elon Musk was emerging rather than “free speech.”

Perhaps he originally wanted to buy Twitter to kill two birds with one stone, both as a joke and as a way to tip the balance of public speaking to the right — or at least to the center. But when Twitter rejected its flimsy but costly legal attempts to split the deal and forced it to agree to a $44 billion takeover, Elon Musk looked like he wanted to protect his investment rather than turn Twitter into “absolute freedom hell.” quote him) where content moderation would hide to die.

He assured his bankers, Tesla shareholders and Twitter advertisers that he would take the platform seriously. It’s been clear for a while that Elon Musk is going to take some steps that will make the experience more unpleasant for most people, and it looks like it’s already happening in moderation. However, if this is the case, then for reasons of commercial difficulties, not ideology. And that’s why Twitter is still in danger of being destroyed, albeit not in the way that many fear.

Different place but not better

If the platform quickly falls into disrepair, it’s not because Elon Musk has decided that protecting the speech of the Internet’s most insufferable neo-Nazis deserves to derail a huge investment. If this happens, it will be because he will be in a desperate position trying to find ways to make Twitter extremely profitable.

This is far from a historical feature of the network. To change that, Elon Musk is researching – or perhaps announcing changes that will make this platform completely different. But they probably won’t make it better because the changes he envisions seem like a zero-sum game between Twitter and its users.

Instead of making this platform a more desirable corner of the internet, he intends to collect money from current users by threatening to make it more unpleasant for those who won’t spit in a bowl, using mostly sticks accompanied by small carrots that may not needed. not even carrots.

If Elon Musk wants Twitter to start making money, he has something to worry about: if the former board of directors was so eager to give him a child, then there was a reason. But if he wants to have any chance of making a profit, he should start by making this place a more pleasant place to spend time. However, at the moment, what he is babbling is far from being the case.

Anarchist cesspool

Initially, according to The Verge, Elon Musk’s new version of Twitter allegedly charged $20 a month to certify an account and removed the blue badge from anyone who didn’t pay. On some level, this is a good business idea. Verified accounts often use Twitter to post their work or connect with their audiences and clients. Extracting a few coins from them in exchange for prestige and the visibility of a blue tick is an idea that makes sense.

Except that this project shows a complete misunderstanding of how Twitter works and why it certifies accounts. The badge has indeed become a garish schoolyard-style status symbol for many accounts, but it’s also a tool that should make Twitter a more trusted channel for information. This simplifies processing and increases the credibility of the information on the web, and since the site wants people to come to learn something, this is of great importance.

However, if everyone can buy this symbol of authenticity, he simply ceases to give it. It’s not hard to imagine how this system could lead to misinformation problems that would make Twitter less attractive to those who want to stay in the know and disgusted by advertisers who don’t want to be associated with an anarchist cesspool.

It also shows a misinterpretation of the power dynamics between Twitter, the media, and the celebrities who use it, whose content draws myriads of people to the platform. They already tweet freely. What if some of them decide not to pay to keep doing it and come to the conclusion that Twitter is no longer a good medium for sharing their work? Moreover, these seasoned tweeters, most of which are rather left-wing, have no sympathy for Elon Musk.

Problem carrot

Elon Musk has finally announced that the certification will cost $8 instead of $20 and that it will be included in the formula offering replies to tweets, mentions and a profile that benefits from better promotion, half the ads and the ability to post long videos. True, the stick is less hard, but carrots are problematic.

Today, tweets are distributed democratically. When a post gets a lot of retweets, likes, or replies, more people will see it. Ideally – though not always – it’s because it’s a good tweet. But in the version proposed by Elon Musk, he will have a better chance of making progress, because the average user will pay for it to be “priority”.

Essentially, this project turns all tweets from anyone using Twitter Blue, the company’s paid plan, into ads. Even advertisers don’t want this: for them, Twitter’s interest is to place their ads among posts that people choose to watch naturally, rather than compete with the army of Twitterers that pay $8 a month. in the hope that the head will stick out of the crowd.

It’s hard to imagine that such a project could be useful for the company’s results, which will no longer be made public after Musk privatized it. Also, I don’t believe there are many subscribers to the Twitter Blue formula at this time because the network made the rather defiant decision to leave paid subscription data vague in its last earnings post before it expired.

Twitter lost $270 million in the second half of 2022. In those three months, he said, he raised about $100 million in “subscriptions and such.” The share of “following” and “others” was not detailed, nor was the number of people following it since Twitter Blue launched in 2021.

As for me, I subscribe to this – because I am a degenerate. But for $4.99 a month, not $8, and because I type a lot and dreamed of being able to “undo” tweets before they were posted. It will take a lot of incredible calculations to make me swallow that Elon Musk will be able to sell enough €8 subscriptions with these features to successfully change Twitter’s trajectory for the better.

The best that users can now hope for is that
layoffs won’t make things worse
things are too noticeable.
I doubt it, but who knows.

I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I might even unsubscribe if it turns out that regular Twitter users think it’s embarrassing to pay for certification. This is a real risk. It will be much harder to reach people the old fashioned way on Twitter.

Elon Musk has other ideas to improve the financial situation of Twitter. He appears to be considering massive layoffs in particular. Some of his co-investors and colleagues hold the theory that there are too many people at the heart of tech companies. Maybe they are right! And if so, it can save you a lot of money. Otherwise, it may degrade the quality of Twitter and distract its users. The best they can hope for now is that these layoffs won’t make things too noticeably worse. I doubt it, but who knows.

Here’s what Musk’s ideas look like: on the one hand, a clumsy plan to charge more from current Twitter users, and on the other hand, to increase margins through staff cuts. What’s missing is the drive to improve the platform for the critical mass of people who spend time on it.

Improving TweetDeck could pay off

Elon Musk flirted with a tweet that came up with the idea to resurrect Vine, a former very popular short video platform that Twitter shelved due to unprofitability. That would be refreshing, and maybe he’s smart enough to capitalize on it better than the old Twitter leadership. But he could do much more.

I think Matt Iglesias has something on his mind when he suggests that Elon Musk might venture into creating features to help people personalize their experience and get rid of the things that get in their way: more tools like Twitter Circles. where you can reduce the group of your subscribers. .

Perhaps Twitter Spaces, the company’s foray into the world of live sound, can also be divided into smaller groups. Users could also be helped to deal with possible harassment, such as automatic deletion of old tweets or mass hiding or feature blocking.

There are better ways to take advantage of the most active users than to screw up the certification system. For example, many of these seasoned tweeters—it’s better to say “addicts,” and I include myself—rely heavily on TweetDeck, a front-end owned by the company but neglected for years. This ignorance is likely due to the fact that TweetDeck doesn’t do much for Twitter as a free service.

This is an essential tool for the media and many other professionals as it offers the ability to schedule posts or even view multiple different lists of tweets at the same time. But this feature is also a huge mess. Many messages are displayed incorrectly. Programming is faulty. The search function works half the time. If Twitter was serious about making TweetDeck better, I’d be happy to pay $20 a month for it.

The network has several tools designed for different types of business users, all of which could earn more if she focused on making them more profitable. And as a bonus, improving features like TweetDeck won’t require unbalancing the entire Twitter information ecosystem.

Hard way

The difficulty for Elon Musk is that even if he makes only good business decisions for Twitter for years, the path ahead promises to be difficult. Buying Twitter at $54.20 per share was an extremely ill-advised idea. The world’s richest guy is never at his best, but he’s going to have a hard time avoiding financial losses in a deal he admits he paid too much for and is furiously trying to get out of.

If Elon Musk manages to get away with it, it won’t be because he chose the business acumen of the ultra-right’s flattery. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition. In fact, his success will depend on how long it takes him to figure out what the real qualities of Twitter are.

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