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Solomon: What Will Twitter Actually Look Like with Musk at the Helm?

Last week, a Delaware judge gave Elon Musk more time to get his financing together for the Twitter acquisition. While the parties were scheduled to be in court in late October as Musk was pulling out of the deal, things at least appear to be back on track for Musk to acquire the company. Musk now has until Oct. 28 to finalize his financing. If he doesn’t, the court will either give him another extension, should he ask for one, or the matter will move to court for litigation. Assuming that Musk has the desire and ability to actually get the Twitter deal to the finish line — I remain unconvinced that he has either — what will a Musk-run Twitter actually look like? Almost certainly, it won’t look like China’s WeChat, though Musk has often said it should. As someone who has lived in Beijing, I have personal experience with WeChat, a deeply ubiquitous mobile app that does literally everything you could want to do on your phone. WeChat does everything that apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook do, but so much more. Using WeChat in China, you can order and pay for things to be delivered, earn store credits and use them to buy a coffee, get free samples and special offers, transfer money, share your location with friends, and much more. For the average Beijinger, WeChat is an absolute must-have, so it’s clear why Musk has repeatedly stated his desire to turn Twitter into a WeChat-like everything app. But that won’t work in the U.S. for a variety of reasons. The first is that we are creatures of mobile habit — in other words, we want to use what we already like to use. If you already use WhatsApp, as an astonishing number of Americans — 75 million — already do, are you going to change your mobile habits and move even your messaging to Twitter? I’m not. While I’ve been an active Twitter user for close to 14 years, I use it for what I want to use it for and nothing else. For me, Twitter has been a way to essentially maintain a diary of events and thoughts. While my tweets now self-delete, I have tweeted over 100,00 times and maintain a log of my tweets. But even for such a power user, I don’t want to use a new Twitter for other things. I don’t want to pay for things on Twitter, I don’t want to use it as my main messaging app (I send very few Twitter DMs to a total of maybe a dozen people), and I absolutely don’t want to pay to use Twitter. This leads us to the thorny issue of monetization. There’s no way Musk can take Twitter to the next level without finding ways to monetize. In other words, Musk will need to charge for some of what we get for free right now, even if he couches this as users paying for a better version of Twitter. If the platform can’t find ways to make users pay for some features, it won’t increase in value. This is something Musk has consistently pointed out in his criticism of the service — that it has had over a decade to figure out how to make money and simply hasn’t done so. This leads us to what we as users are all willing to accept in a new Twitter. Michael Epstein, a New Jersey lawyer, argues that if Musk’s goal is to have Twitter become a significantly different service than it is now, he risks alienating its current user base: “In operating Twitter, the company has existing terms of service to which every user agrees to be bound. Don’t like the terms of service? Don’t use Twitter. If, post-acquisition, Elon Musk decides to change Twitter’s features in a way that makes the service materially different, the terms of service will need to be changed and some users will push back.” Whether Twitter’s lawsuit against Musk is just on hold as he buys some time or the deal manages to eventually get done, a retooled Twitter can’t be a successful service unless people are excited about using it. If Musk acquires Twitter and sticks with his idea of making it a WeChat-style everything app, he might find himself the owner of a massively expensive acquisition that is decreasing in value. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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