evan's thoughts

Bird Down

Disclaimer: I work for Microsoft on Azure. Nothing I state here reflects any views my employer holds. These opinions are mine and mine alone, unless they’re also yours, in which case, hell yeah. Additionally, I am not an author. Grammar is going to be all over the place. Thanks.

Over the past few months my favorite place on the internet has been dying. You know why. An insurmountable amount of horrific decisions were made by its new owner who essentially determined himself the primary class of user to be catered to. He decided to crusade against bots on the site, an occurrence less frequent and annoying to me than the spam I receive in my email inbox. He allowed everyone to purchase a blue verification badge for 8 dollars without actually verifying their real identity (the previous point of the badge), devaluing the entire concept of the badge and ensuring that Tweets actually convey far less information than they ever used to. Last week he ultimately removed them from everyone who was “legacy verified” before giving them all his new blue service for free, a thing he promised he would never do. This has turned the badge into a mark of shame, something that all the previous verified users such as Stephen King are ensuring their followers they did not pay for of their own free will, and has resulted in Twitter no longer being a place that makes news and moves markets.

Imagine being so absolutely horrific at marketing and branding, that not only does no one want your product, you have managed to make every fucking influencer on the planet actively state they would never pay for it in the first place and do everything in their power to remove it. If that’s not enough, the new users he has “verified” for paying 8 bucks a month are generally produce the worst drivel i’ve seen in my almost 14 years using this website, and you have to now wade through them at the top of all replies like you’re traversing marshland in order to see anything worth actually reading. They constantly obsess over views and metrics, complaining when their paid for algorithmic boosting doesn’t compensate enough for their sheer inability to post. Those are just the things as a direct result of his product decisions too! This doesn’t take into account the horrific security concerns that have arisen since he found himself in charge, including giving journalists behind the scenes “god mode” screenshots and accidentally allowing private “Circle” tweets to show up in algorithmic feeds for all users, a bafflingly massive security violation.

Outside of Twitter, his leadership of Tesla in recent years has been a mixed bag at best, unable to deliver on product categories like the pickup truck in a timely manner due to absolutely baffling design decisions, resulting in them being eclipsed by Rivian / Ford in terms of both quality and sales. His leadership of SpaceX isn’t even worth commenting on because effectively Shotwell actually runs that shop. Even if you see his stewardship of the former corporations favorably, by comparison his time at Twitter has been nothing short of amateur. You don’t even have to take it from me, the venture capitalists and conservatives who supported him initially are dunking on him in the replies after he banned them for zero good reason.

The only reason the site still draws a pulse is that there hasn’t been a suitable alternative for an exodus yet. Mastodon is a cool proof of concept but ironically is far too centralized around the concept of the instance, with every decision of your experience dictated by the administrator of said instance. It’s Twitter if it was hosted in the panopticon. BlueSky is a far more promising alternative in terms of functionality (quote posts! recommendations!) but has a long way to go in terms of UX polish, isn’t open to the public yet, currently lacks the functionality to block someone, and it’s up in the air whether the main instance will even suspend the accounts of Nazis. If I had to put my money down on a winner amidst all this, I think that Meta/Facebook’s P92 is the closest bet. They’re hovering over the Twitter bird’s dying carcass like a vulture waiting to feast. They have the motivation too, their failed short term metaverse pivot fundamentally requires them to own text communication on the internet and appease investors in the short term with growth outside of that space. To compete against Twitter their product will integrate with Instagram, likely allowing celebrities to bring over their followings and verification, and newcomers like Mastodon as it’ll be decentralized and support activitypub. The later concession alone is enough to show me that they understand how to win in this new void Elon has built.

Four years ago, Twitter was one of the most influential websites in the world. The 45th president of the united states was an absolute addict. It drove almost every news cycle. After years of trying, Facebook couldn’t compete or keep up, outside the real time celebrity tabloid that is Instagram. Now, suddenly, out of nowhere, hundreds internally are working to build P92, a product which did not exist a year ago. It’s because Elon is a weak leader with zero understanding of consumer business strategy who is incapable of building products with user needs that don’t align with his own, and everyone with half a brain in silicon valley understands that there is money to be made off his narcissistic ignorance. His leadership has effectively caused a 9% drop in daily active users of his platform year over year, caused a total advertiser meltdown, and have caused famous celebrities to announce they are not paying for his subscription service which he has now turned into a mark of shame. He’s so scared of competition he banned even talking about them, before being scared he is going to lose his users he reversed course on that policy within days. Regardless of users he’s also continuing to lose advertisers, and most importantly he is losing his sense of product direction, ruining the entire appeal of the network to suit his whims. Twitter will “survive” much in the same way every dead network never stops working, like Tumblr, LiveJournal, and MySpace, before it, it’ll die a slow death, fading out of relevance until its user acquisition stream ultimately goes bust. It will never stop working entirely, but stop being useful. To me, it’s already almost there. It’s less a question of whether it’s happening, and more about who will replace it. On that topic, we’ll just have to wait and see which vulture swoops down first.

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