Twitter is in the news again thanks to Elon Musk’s seemingly sudden decision to rebrand the service as ‘X’.
This follows a tumultuous period at the social networking company since Musk’s takeover, which has included large layoffs, the removal of badges used to verify users, and changes to what is and is not allowed on the service.
The abrupt rebrand is a slightly odd decision, given that Twitter is in the rarefied position of being a tech brand almost everyone has heard of, even if they do not actively use the service.
Twitter has, in short, the kind of brand awareness that most companies would die for.
The rollout has already encountered a number of hurdles, from the unsightly spectacle of Musk taking @x account from an existing user to a brief intervention by the San Francisco Police Department, who deemed the removal of the sign on the corporate headquarters “unauthorized work,”
More worrying for the company is the fact that companies including Meta and Microsoft have intellectual property rights to X for various uses. Litigation, or at the very least a hefty settlement, seems inevitable.
This has all happened just as arch-rival Meta has launched Threads, a Twitter clone that achieved 100 million sign-ups in less than a week.
Rebrands can, of course, be extremely effective, particularly if there is a clear rationale (followed by a good deal of planning).
The new CEO of Twitter, Linda Yaccarino, made a stab at explaining the strategy behind the switch to X by tweeting, “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centred 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.”
This word salad sounds like the kind of thing people say to web developers after they have had an idea for an app down at the pub.
“The app itself has become a cultural phenomenon in all sorts of ways,” Mike Proulx, a vice president and research director at Forrester, told the New York Times. “In one fell sweep, Elon Musk has essentially wiped out 15 years of brand value from Twitter and is now essentially starting from scratch.”
Allen Adamson, the co-founder of the marketing and brand consulting group Metaforce, was even more scathing: “To me, it’s going to go down in history as one of the fastest unwindings of a business and brand ever.”
I have never been a heavy user of Twitter, or X as it is now called.
Ever since I created an account all the way back in 2009 (which I think I probably did just to claim my username) I have used it mostly as a way to procrastinate.
And there were few better places to waste time.
Where else could you immerse yourself in a tidal wave of idle observations, impassioned rants, unhinged arguments, links to random articles and, occasionally, something really quite witty.
There was a business case for using Twitter too. Every brand and self-professed thought leader was there.
And for some business owners, many academics, and pretty much every journalist, it was an essential resource. It offered a place to road test ideas, gain valuable connections and build a following.
For political dissidents it offered a place of sanctuary.
Every event I attended, or cause I supported, urged me to Tweet something out with the appropriate hashtag (and sometimes I did).
If you wanted to get a sense of public opinion, we were told, about any topic under the sun, then Twitter was the place to go (though in reality it offered only a tiny insight into public sentiment about anything in particular given how relatively small its active user base has always been).
And at times of international crisis or national hysteria there were few better places to get a snapshot of what was going on in real time (though often the hot takes turned out to be inaccurate).
So it had its uses.
Occasionally I made a concerted effort to follow the “right” people and to trim the list of accounts I was following to bring some semblance of order to my feed.
But over time, like most people, I found other more interesting places to be.
When Elon Musk bought Twitter there was a brief moment when it felt like it might become somewhere important again.
But on the rare occasions I have remembered to open the app in recent weeks that looks very unlikely.
Twitter was always a bit of a mess, but somehow you knew the people that ran it had their hearts in the right place. They could not stop all the scammers, bots and hate speech, but they were trying.
Elon Musk fired most of those people.
Twitter was fun for a while, but it is not fun anymore. RIP Twitter. X marks the spot.