I write this as thousands of Twitter employees learned in the past day that they no longer had a job. They were dumped unceremoniously, the result of the addled whims of a walking meme. I wanted to write this to remind myself what Twitter was because what it’s about to be will be a different, more chaotic and more toxic place. I mostly feel anger and frustration towards Elon and the yes-men he put around him, and sadness for the people that worked there that truly believed and worked towards the idea of what Twitter could be.
(If you’re a Twitter person that is looking for a job, needs a resume reviewed, or needs an introduction, let me know.)
First, what I believe is already happening.
The illusion of Elon Musk, David Sacks and Jason Calcanis as savvy operators is gone. This endeavor will be one of their lasting legacies: taking a much-loved, revenue-generating cornerstone of the web and smothering it within weeks, while likely losing billions of dollars and ultimately needing to sell the site for parts. They thought they were rolling out some grand experiment in social discourse, forgetting that brands, users, and speech are all tightly intertwined in somewhat important things like revenue and profit.
Further, the same cast of characters is also acting out some of the worst takes to management, leadership and business that the VC thoughtleaders and hustlehards regularly regurgitate. Those who actually work in the industry have always seen how detached from reality these aggro-fortune cookie tidbits are, and now we’re getting to watch a play unfold where we already know how the ending goes.
And those who have worked on social networks recognize that the problems in social media extend past “Why can’t I say whatever I want?” Seeing them try to learn how to operate something as big and complex as Twitter in today’s political environment from first principles (which VC thoughtleaders can’t resist) is not unlike watching a toddler learning how gravity works, except in this case I spare no soothing encouragement or helpful grace because it is no secret how difficult it is to run world-scale social networks
Topping it off, I am not confident the company will be able to keep the service itself up. Anyone that has worked on large, complex system knows that the margin of error in uptime and downtime is often whether the right person is within arms’ reach of their laptop. Working software is as much as what’s in the head of the people that work on it as it is in the code, and it is a near guarantee that Twitter will be seriously degraded soon (days? weeks?) and the people they need won’t be there.
But, what is gone? Twitter was a unique spot where journalists, celebrities, titans of industries, your family, friends and co-workers, would join a daily mosh pit filled with a mix of truly important cultural moments and the most inane things you’ve ever seen. It was weird and it was special and it’s going to soon be a memory. With employees gone, with the clowns running the circus, with a reduction in trust and safety, and the exodus of advertisers starting, Twitter will likely go from Elon’s new toy that is too difficult for him to play with, to being passed on to his legal and finance advisers to sort out.
Twitter was flawed but I believe many of those flaws are inherent in running an ad-supported social network. Seeing the new management believe they have the one weird trick to balance their own version of “free speech” and the revenue-generating machinery is like a random person taking over a restaurant chain because they didn’t like how their burger was presented: expensive, ill-advised and likely to end up with people dining elsewhere.