My routine for writing blog posts here has 3 steps:
- Capturing stray thoughts in a drafts folder in Typora with ideas in the shower or during my commute,
- Develop those ideas into actual posts, collecting the finished blog posts in WordPress‘s own drafts folder, and
- Picking one to publish every Monday morning.
This setup lets me write at my pace and avoid getting too stuck with writer’s block, but it does mean that I tend to choose to opine about evergreen topics; in fact, a lot of my articles and tweets cited are months old because it takes me a while to gather my thoughts. Hence the blog name, in|retrospect.
My blogging strategy has completely failed in trying to make heads and tails of the Elon ↔︎ Twitter saga. It’s impossible to ignore the drama given how much of my Twitter feed and the actual news is covering the multitude of stories; Twitter already has an outsized impact as a social network relative to its number of users1, and when combined with the richest person in the world who also attracts controversy and attention, it makes for, well, a whirlwind of all of the above.
The adage of “decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen” rings true here. I had wanted to talk about reports of how Elon was asking Tesla engineers to meet with and review Twitter’s code, but given how fast everything else has been moving, that particular detail now feels like ancient news. Since then, there have been rumors of code being printed out, engineers stack ranked on said code, new content moderation councils formed, building the new Twitter Blue in a week, charging $20 and then $8 for the rebuilt service, rumors of layoffs, actual layoffs, and asking laid off folks to come back. It’s been, uh, a week.
Some are cheering on the pace of these changes, but most are lamenting the loss of the old Twitter—how glacial and methodical it took its product development efforts, how it resisted change even as other social networks ran circles around its user growth and advertising businesses, and certainly how slowly the company evolved its stance on moderation. When it took years for Twitter to expand beyond 140 characters2, this sudden shift in how things are moving is disorienting, if not overwhelming.
But to drag out an overused silicon valley term, this is truly and disruptive, so of course, it’s going to be uncomfortable. The question then becomes: did Twitter need to be disrupted?
I’d argue that this was, in some sense, inevitable. The book Hatching Twitter went into all the dysfunction that had led it to IPOing as a public company at the time, but even then there seemed to be better alternatives than a for-profit corporation for the service; a non-profit organization or a private enterprise wouldn’t have the same pressures to increase profits and expand user growth every quarter. The slow pace that the product move would be better suited for those corporate structures.
But the company did go public, and in doing so became beholden to shareholder pressure. Unlike Wikipedia or Craigslist—both of which can keep their services largely the same for well over a decade—Twitter made itself vulnerable, and by 2020 had to deal with shareholder activism that eventually led to Jack Dorsey departing as CEO and leaving a non-founder operator, Parag Agrawal, in charge. His transition then enabled one bored Elon Musk to come in and pull ridiculous stunts, culminating in the leveraged buyout that closed last week and the subsequent chaos chronicled above.