Like many of the long term twits I am watching with some mixed emotions at what is going on over at Twitter right now. I joined quite early in 2008? That time after only a few days I deleted my account because there were very few other users and the idea of writing a status seemed impossibly narcissistic and just not that useful so I quit. I rejoined again about a year later or maybe only a few months after I noticed many of my friends at events and busy taking photos and notes. That seemed like a much more useful use case. I blogged about some of this earlier and over here.
Over the years I have found Twitter to be useful for locating interesting and vital sources of intelligence. A kind of DNA library or front seat people. When there were less algorithm between me and the people I followed it was fantastic. At times this improved but even when I went into settings and unticked everything it was difficult. Tweetdeck and some of the non official apps still showed chronological feeds but after changing phones, laptops and other devices in the ensuing years I lost track of some of those.
Since October 2022 there has been a huge change at Twitter with the purchase of the company by Elon Musk and a few other interested parties. Jack who was a founder rolled over his $1b worth of shares and the Saudis did the same with their $2b or whatever it was. Elon and banks came up with another $44b for business that might have been worth $15b on a good day.
So who pays $44b for a business worth less than half of that. Worst of all he loaded almost $13b of that directly on Twitter the company itself. Of course as the main shareholder he can do whatever he wants. But here is the thing. None of that looks remotely like smart business and you’d have to think there is very much a political or other motive to all of the changes given the eye watering numbers involved. Despite the posturing before the sale Musk famously picked a dope number for the share price and famously did zero due diligence. Then complained about bots and the sorts of things that due diligence would have sorted out. he could also have paid a $1b break fee and walked away which would have been the smart business move.
I rate Musk for lighting a fire under the car industry and forcing them to take electric cars seriously. I think Tesla’s are expensive but beautiful and the Tesla company is massively over valued because it was a prime mover. That leading advantage has to be worth not very much as the big car manufacturers catch up and can build at higher volumes. And over time Tesla shares have to decline in value substantially I would think but shares are a bit of a casino lottery and who knows if they will.
Musk also somehow has the Powerwall battery in his toolbox and that is a fantastic device. Again not the first or even the best but so inspiring all the same. So it is very disappointing to read about how he fired half of the staff at Twitter in the first week and then dumped another quarter or so a few weeks later. Despite having some smart advisors there is no excuse for being a complete sociopathic prick to your staff. Apparently this is not a surprise to anyone who worked for him at Tesla and related companies.
I do hope that twitter survives and prospers but Musk is the veritable illustration of the “emperor has no clothes”. There is no doubt that he is not smarter than anyone else and seems to operate most of the time in 18/ 22 year old version of bro mode.
Psychological age is something that doesn’t always line up with actual age. Musk is in his 50’s but acts like an emotionally stunted 20 year old much of the time. How much of that is playing for the cameras and how much of it is just a very disappointing dude we don’t know. But here we are. An extraordinary company which is all about social nuance is being piloted by a thoughtless plonker.
It will likely succeed in spite of anything Musk does if enough of the core people stick around but there are signs that many of the great people have bailed.
Now I understand the idea is that Twitter could be a super app like Wechat. I used Wechat for a few years but deleted it over concerns about security. But combining payment tech and various other functions together like that would make Twitter more competitive in China and India and Indonesia as well. So not entirely a bad idea.
But the company has to survive the bad management from Musk and the almost impossible demands on finance costs. Making the twitter company responsible for debt funding of something like $13b is just financial negligence and reckless trading. It is effectively 100% finance but much worse sine the total price was about triple that.
To over simplify the wheels are falling off. Twitter demise is likely to be gradual with broken systems and processes piling on the pressure in the background. Momentum and a few inspired super heroes within the company will try to save the day but it is like lightbulbs blowing out in a small city. You don’t notice the first few or ever the first 100 but it starts getting darker and anything out of the ordinary is just missing. Ben Gracewood puts it well when he talks about fuse and queues.
“Think of Twitter right now like the fusebox in your house. Most of the time you don’t even care about it. But if a fuse blows and no one knows how to fix it, or if you’ve fired over half of your fuse repairers and locked the rest of them out of the office, then it’s a bit trickier. The house probably won’t burn down immediately, but it’s dark and only half the power outlets work.”
It is the death of a thousand cuts. Anna Rawhiti-Connell also captures some of the zeitgist with her post Twitter, 2006 – [insert date here]. Like Anna I have probably spent too much time on Twitter over the years but generally I was able to justify it some of the time 🙂 It has been a rich and rewarding community. I am over on Mastodon mostly these days as a quieter more gentle place but I think NZ twitter was a special place.
Last interesting fact about twitter. Eighty percent of twitter users are outside the US and are generally more subject to controls and regulations than US based users. The US of course is very self -centric and we don’t really exist except that we obviously do and in much greater numbers than the core US user community. That alone gives me hope that Twitter as a wonderful host mess will survive despite the present mis-management by an egocentric tool pretending to not be incredibly stupid.
PS. I also just found this story Elon Musk’s Twitter immolation, according to the New Zealander who worked for him
by “Hamish McKenzie, the New Zealander who once worked for the billionaire entrepreneur and subsequently wrote a book about the man and his electric car colossus Tesla.” Hamish notes:
“The guy he is on Twitter at the moment is pretty much who he is. I don’t think he’s hiding anything.”