Twitter Goes Private

If I had comments enabled on this blog, surely someone would have commented on my now 32 day old post, “Twitter, Nine Years Removed” with “#AgedLikeMilk” and they’d be right except my post wasn’t about Twitter, it was about my usage of Twitter and how I feel the product is looking. I think Twitter is on the right path from a product perspective and a lot of reasons I stopped using Twitter are becoming less of an issue. Twitter has become the moral high ground version of Facebook…maybe not in the user base but in the product and that’s a good thing.

Today, April 25th, 2022, a man who has amassed a small fortune saving companies and making them hugely profitable has purchased Twitter with the deal expected to close in the coming months. He’s taking about 1/3 of his own cash paired with money from banks that are loans against his paper wealth to acquire the entire thing in full. This isn’t the private equity exit we all thought would happen to Twitter. It’s much different. To my knowledge, there have been no billion dollar social media companies purchased by one person. There are news media organizations that have been acquired but a company made up by the thoughts and activities of a few hundred million people to be purchased by the man running Space-X, Tesla and more…it’s quite insane.

Twitter has always felt like a town hall to me and so I spent this afternoon feeling melancholy trying to fight the emotion of Twitter’s journey and its future still ahead. I don’t feel this acquisition is on-the-whole a bad thing. I do think that Elon Musk wants a return on his investment and therefore won’t do anything such as open heart surgery with a hatchet that would negatively impact the daily active users, advertisers or the valuable employees who have been working their butts off the past few years to turn the ship around. Will there be drastic changes? Probably but, to his best ability, Mr. Musk will do what he thinks is right hopefully with the advisement of trusted professionals all looking for their payday when Twitter inevitably is taken public again in a decade or less.

What does concern me is what Twitter will become. Facebook is by all measures, a successful product used by billions of people every day and Twitter never saw that success for many reasons that can all fit on a single powerpoint slide but, aside from what the investors wanted, I never saw Twitter as the Facebook killer. The quaint “What are you doing?” question with a 140 characters answer was never going to be the premiere social network for the entire world. Twitter adopted photos, videos, spaces, audio and communities much too late (most in the last 6 months) to overtake Facebook but being the underdog appealed to many people’s emotions. When Twitter failed to monetize users as much as Facebook, “that’s okay” we all said “It’s Twitter, they can be smaller and we’re all better for it” but the success and removal of President Donald Trump from the service changed the course of Twitter forever. Twitter was the most talked about online property for 4 years and their engagement numbers were through the roof and removal of the President on January 6th from the social media service of choice for him was correct if you review Twitter’s own policies that have been in place for years around harassment, hate speech and bullying which the President and many other people violated leading up to actions taken to remove them in early 2021 but in a polarized and highly politicized world, this upholding of their own policies told the world, “We’re anti-conservative”. That was the narrative Twitter was labeled with from that point forward and since then, the organization has been letting new products showcase where they were going all while fighting the internet-branding that Twitter is the silencer of right-wing voices.

For better or worse, that was their bed. 

I don’t think that would forever be Twitter’s perception to the general public but if you read conservative press, it’s the go-to ideal that Twitter is for the woke.

Like nearly every Tech company on the stock market, Twitter’s market cap was slashed in half starting in January of 2022 and a man, the richest in the world as of this writing took advantage of this and made the shareholders an offer they could not refuse. 

What happens next? I don’t think anyone knows, even Mr. Musk. He’s not an activist investor like Icahn, nor is he a consultant who comes in, shakes things up, causes a blood bath and leaves. I believe that he will do his best and put Twitter on the right path and will it succeed? I don’t know. What I will say as a Twitter user is I hope he knows what he’s doing or that the people he puts in charge don’t screw things up too badly. Putting Twitter on a path to profitability and success is great but don’t make it the next Facebook. 

Alex Wilhelm of TechCrunch (I need to email him. I haven’t hung out with him since that Mashable Party in SF in 2008) wrote a very eloquent post today that I couldn’t have written better myself. My favorite part:

Twitter is not perfect and never has been. I haven’t always agreed with the company’s product choices or policy decisions. But what Twitter has mostly done during its life is keep its time-series feed accessible while working to conserve as much room for speech as possible while working on the spam issue. It’s worked.

I spent my evening on Tweetbot reading tweets from @Ev, @Biz, @Jack, @Netik, @Rabble, @Noah and more are up to and more importantly, what people are saying to them via replies. It was therapeutic to even see a few familiar faces talking @ them on the mentions and asking what they think. It’s a reminder that despite having hundreds of millions of users, Twitter is still this small community mostly of nerds who just wanted a way to make a status update permanent and have a little fun at the same time.

I wish Elon Musk success because, if he fails, a big part of my Internet history and memories goes along with it and if anyone current or formerly at Twitter wants to chat, I’m all ears. I’m rooting for every single one of you because I know, no matter who is in charge, you care deeply about the network and want it to succeed. Me too.

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