Wednesday, 29 Mar 2023

He is poised to open the floodgates: can Twitter survive Elon Musk or even thrive?

He is poised to open the floodgates: can Twitter survive Elon Musk or even thrive?

He is poised to open the floodgates: can Twitter survive Elon Musk  or even thrive?

Twitter isn't a good place to be right now. That's nothing new, but the day-to-day awfulness has been ramped up by Elon Musk's chaotic acquisition. In the week since he marched through the company's San Francisco office holding a basin - so that he could tweet "let that sink in" - and dubbed himself first "chief twit" and then "Twitter complaint hotline operator" (his actual title, according to internal systems, is boring old "chief executive officer"), the world's richest man has done the corporate-takeover equivalent of flipping the table halfway through a game of chess.

Externally, the changes are slim, but significant. One of his first acts was to order a change in the site's homepage. If you visit without being logged into an account, you will no longer be sent to a log-in page; instead, you'll be taken to the Explore tab, the site's algorithmically curated selection of the best tweets and most popular trends. It's a change of focus, in other words, from encouraging users to sign up or log in, to embracing visitors who just want to see what's happening and then bail.

That change of focus isn't unprecedented. Twitter has flipped and flopped on the question multiple times in the past, sometimes arguing that its goal as a company is simply to maximise the number of people reading tweets, other times arguing that it should be maximising account-holders, and other times focusing on "monetisable" users - those who see adverts. No, the point of the change isn't what happened, but when it happened: immediately.

No focus groups, no A/B tests, no memos passed back and forth between senior executives arguing the pros and cons of each option. Musk commands, and change occurs. The message, for those inside Twitter and out, was clear: meet the new boss, not at all the same as the old boss.

In the days since, Musk has torn through the social network's headquarters like a hurricane. Backed up by a brains trust of close friends, including the venture capitalists Jason Calacanis and Sriram Krishnan, PayPal co-founder David Sacks, and Alex Spiro, his personal lawyer, as well as a handpicked cohort of Tesla engineers, he has set about reshaping the company.

Alongside the symbolic change to the homepage came the actual changes to the executive team. Musk fired Twitter's chief executive and chief finance officer, as well as the head of legal and policy, Vijaya Gadde - the most powerful woman at Twitter and the person most identified with the decision to ban Donald Trump from the site. Despite early reports suggesting the executives were in line for multimillion-dollar golden parachutes, Musk appears instead to have decided that he hasn't seen enough of courtrooms in the past six months, firing them "for cause" - that is, alleging gross incompetence - and denying them their payouts.

The payouts will almost certainly arrive eventually, after Musk plays a mini version of the same courtroom drama that led to him being forced to buy the company in the first place. According to a Financial Times report, his argument is that were it not for his bid, the value of the company's stock would have collapsed. Others note that the fact that the executives fought so hard to force Musk to complete the purchase suggests that they did their job very well indeed, securing a multibillion payout for shareholders that would have evaporated if they had let him walk away.

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