Elon Musk finalized his acquisition of Twitter last week, making immediate changes behind the scenes as well as ultimatums for changes that would affect the most front-facing users. The Elon Era is clearly underway.
Back in April when Musk initially proposed his $44 billion deal for the social media platform, he said his desire to own Twitter had everything to do with free speech. Since taking over, he’s spoke of the importance “to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square.” And while free speech may still be a North Star within segments of an already radically revamped headquarters, he recently tweeted another factor in his mission statement:
For publishers in particular, the idea that “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app” should be far more fascinating than any generic gestures towards free speech.
What would an “Everything App” like X look like?
According to speculators, the closest model we have to understanding what an “Everything App” like X might look like or strive to become is WeChat, a robust social messaging app in China. “In China, WeChat is used by more than a billion people as an all-in-one social media, instant messaging and mobile payment app,” The New York Times said in an article about Musk’s “everything app” comments. “Used to order food, hail cabs and find news, [WeChat] is sewn into the fabric of daily life.”
In leaked comments from a Town Hall with Twitter staff in June, Musk is quoted as talking about the lack of a WeChat outside of China: “I think that there’s a real opportunity to create that. You basically live on WeChat in China because it’s so useful and so helpful to your daily life. And I think if we could achieve that, or even close to that with Twitter, it would be an immense success.”
The reach of those “Everything App” aspirations could be much further than many give credit. One research analyst, for instance, highlights Twitter’s potential as a search engine. Given Musk’s aspirations for Twitter “to be the most respected advertising platform in the world,” a larger piece of the Search pie would no doubt help that potential.
There are inherent hurdles for an “Everything App” like WeChat to work outside of China, of course. TechCrunch highlights that its foundation as a social messaging app means it’s “highly sticky,” in contrast to Twitter’s foundation as a social media platform where “people go on … mostly to consume information rather than talk to people they know in real life.”
In terms of WeChat’s news consumption, TechCrunch says that by 2021, 360 million users were reading articles through the app’s content publishing feature called Public Accounts. Content producers from state media to commerce brands are on WeChat with Public Accounts — “the majority of businesses in China might not have a website, but they probably maintain a WeChat Public Account,” TechCrunch says — but replicating that in the United States, where the online media landscape is nowhere near as consolidated, would be quite the undertaking.
And as the world’s richest, most business-ambitious human begins the process of charging for verification and seeing publishers and journalists essentially have to pay to play, it’s an undertaking we all have to pay close attention to.