Dem 51
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GOP 49
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X! Y? Zzzzzzz...

Elon Musk is, for whatever reason, obsessed with the letter X. One of his first entrepreneurial ventures was to found, which eventually became PayPal. He also founded SpaceX, of course, and Tesla makes a Model X. He even tried to name his kid "X" (full name: X AE A-XII) before the state of California stepped in and said that name wasn't legal. And, as of yesterday, Musk's boondoggle of a social media platform has officially been renamed "X."

This was a somewhat foreseeable development. Musk is a big believer in his own public image, which includes the notion that he's an "innovator" who "shakes things up." So, a Twitter rebrand was likely to be in the cards. Further, not only does Musk love the letter X, he also reacquired the domain name from PayPal in 2017. As far as premium domain names, there's no way he was going to do better, cost-wise, than one he already owns. If he had tried to acquire a domain name from some other person or entity, and word got out what he was planning, the price tag could easily have reached eight or nine figures.

Of course, just because Musk was likely to rebrand doesn't mean it was a good idea. People, and in particular people online, do not like change, especially when it appears to be change for change's sake. Twitter users have already felt put upon in half a dozen ways since Musk took over, and this is just another item for the list. On top of that, everyone is still going to call it Twitter. And, perhaps most importantly, undertaking a wholesale rebrand when your company is struggling is a pretty obvious sign of desperation.

Also a sign of desperation? The big talk coming out of Twitter headquarters, courtesy of Musk and newly installed Twitter CEO (X CEO? Perhaps, soon to be ex-CEO?) Linda Yaccarino. In an effort to make the change seem like something more than an Elon Musk lark, she fired off a long tweet thread on Sunday that explains that the platform plans to become a one-stop shop for... everything? Here's the first message in the thread:

X is the future state of unlimited interactivity—centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking—creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities. Powered by AI, X will connect us all in ways we're just beginning to imagine.

She's very good at corporate-speak, we will give her that.

As you can tell, we have zero confidence that Musk and Yaccarino will be able to pull this off in any substantive manner. To start, a lot of people don't like Musk, and don't want to intertwine their lives with his business empire. Further, people do not generally embrace it-can-do-it-all websites/apps, which is why every attempt to create a portal-type product has not worked out. On top of that, these days, Twitter/X isn't even doing a very good job at what is supposed to be its core competency. How can it plausibly do a good job at all of these other things, and at a time when much of the staff has been laid off, and Musk is trying to stop hemorrhaging cash? It just does not add up.

In short, it sure looks like the Twitter death spiral is not only underway, but that it just sped up. And as per usual, we mention it not because we are interested in chronicling Musk's setbacks and failures, but because Twitter was a very key element of American politics for roughly four presidential cycles (2008, 2012, 2016, 2020). It helped fuel the rise of Barack Obama, and it almost singlehandedly made the political career of Donald Trump possible.

Can Twitter/X remain an important element of politics, going forward? It surely does not look that way. At least not in the same way that it was. Lefties are jumping ship for other options like Mastodon or Bluesky, or are leaving this particular form of interaction behind entirely. It's not too hard to look ahead to a time when Twitter/X is just a somewhat more successful version of Truth Social. It's also not too hard to look ahead to a time when Musk decides to cut his losses and shut Twitter/X down. Hopefully Yaccarino negotiated a sweet golden parachute before agreeing to become CEO.

Meanwhile, after a fast start, Threads is not exactly looking like a giant-killer. The Wall Street Journal took a look at the numbers, and they are pretty grim. In just 2 weeks, the number of active users has dropped from a little less than 100 million down to 13 million. Further, those folks who have hung around are using the site less during their visits; the average session was 19 minutes at the outset, and now it's down to... 4 minutes. Oof!

It is certainly possible that Threads, given the advantages of a built-in userbase to exploit, not to mention gobs of cash to burn, could right the ship. But maybe not, since Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn't much more popular than Musk is. Certainly, the platform would have to reverse course on at least one of the two major turn-offs that are driving away users: (1) the aggressive harvesting of personal information coupled with a near-total-inability to escape once you've signed up, and (2) users' lack of control over what content they see. The former is key to Meta's bottom line, so we don't see that changing, and surely Zuckerberg & Co. must have thought long and hard about the latter before they implemented a "you see what the algorithms want you to see" approach. So, we don't see them changing course on that, either.

Maybe the era of social-media politics is drawing to a close, and politicians are going to have to go back to more traditional ways of reaching people. However, our guess—not that it's particularly profound—is that social media is going to be sucked in by the same gravity that affected cable news, talk radio, etc., and that we're now well into the era of "bubble" social media, where there are few (or no) remaining platforms that reach significant numbers of people on both sides of the political aisle.

Incidentally, thanks to reader J.G. in San Diego for that headline. Given the increasing prominence of AI to Twitter/X, we were going to go with "X Marks the Bots." But we decided J.G.'s headline was better. (Z)

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