The rebranding of Twitter into ‘X’ is the last gasp of the digital conversation.
In what seems like an instant, Twitter is no more. In late July 2023, owner Elon Musk announced that Twitter would be renamed to ‘X’, accompanied by a new logo, branding, URL, and even giant flashing X at the top of the company’s San Francisco headquarters. This marks arguably the most dramatic action of Musk’s tenure since his chaotic $44 billion takeover in October last year.
While a minor change at first glance, the Twitter rebrand is part of a wider campaign to move away from just a digital water cooler to an ‘everything app’, one where you can see posts, watch videos, order groceries, and even start a podcast without ever leaving the app.
“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,” wrote CEO Linda Yaccarino on the website formally known as Twitter.
So while Twitter/X pivots to the word salad of ‘unlimited interactivity’, and scorching tens of billions of dollars in brand value in the process, it feels like we’re at the end of the road for what Twitter used to be.
In its heyday, Twitter acted as the global ‘town square’, an online space to discuss breaking news without restrictions of time and place. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Arab Spring, and MeToo all got their start on the micro-blogging service. Even as one of the smaller social networks — boasting around 237 million daily active users compared to Facebook’s 1.9 billion daily visitors — Twitter had some of the most important users on its platform.
From politicians to athletes, journalists to researchers, visiting Twitter felt like having your finger on the pulse for what the world was talking about. Want the latest sports results? Open Twitter. Want to hear directly from the President of the United States? Twitter is your answer.
Even as the service has experienced waves of online harassment campaigns, service outages, and the erratic whims of its owner, most stayed on. Despite the chaos, neither Facebook, Instagram, or Reddit could truly replace Twitter’s ‘town square’.
That monopoly, however, is ending. Mastodon, BlueSky, Post.News, Spill and, of course, Instagram’s Threads, have all launched clone services in the last year to replace Twitter. Some are starting to see traction: Threads alone saw over 100 million sign ups in less than a week, making it the fastest adoption for a consumer tech product in history.
So as many users migrate for greener pastures, the brain drain has left Twitter feeling tired. While the service once brought so many interesting conversations to one place, those discussions are now being spread across half a dozen services, with no one completely replacing the ‘blue bird app’. Where one town square existed, now there are many, all fighting for your time and attention.
Most likely, that global platform for discussions will be replaced with echo chambers and smaller, more niche communities. Want a space to discuss conservative politics? Truth Social is there for you. Looking at interesting conversations around tech? There’s plenty of Mastodon servers chatting away.
For users, this means opening several apps every day just to see what is happening in each pocket of the internet. It already feels exhausting for many, as they scramble to keep up with their favourite celebrities, writers, and influences.
For what it’s worth, Twitter, or rather X, may never truly die. The service still has hundreds of millions of users, and many may stay on for either distrust of the alternatives, or the reliability Twitter has given users since it started in 2007. As Twitter’s and ultimately Elon Musk’s vast wealth gives now X an awfully long runway to get this right, even if it’s a messy journey.
Right now, we can’t say for sure if X will successfully transform into the ‘everything app’, even as they seemingly struggle just being Twitter. Yet regardless of what happens, we can finally put a period on the never-ending sentence that was Twitter, and the idea of a truly global town square.
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