https://www.myjoyonline.com/elon-musk-and-x-a-year-on-four-problems-he-needs-to-fix/-------https://www.myjoyonline.com/elon-musk-and-x-a-year-on-four-problems-he-needs-to-fix/
Technology

Elon Musk and X a year on: Four problems he needs to fix

A year ago, having just bought Twitter, Elon Musk walked into its HQ carrying a sink. "Let that sink in" he quipped - then fired a large swathe of staff.

It was the first flavour of what has been a 12-month whirlwind of erratic change - not least the renaming of the company to X. 

In some ways, X has been remarkably resilient. Despite rivals old and new circling, it survives. 

However, with advertisers wary and user metrics shaky, what's next for X?

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The challenge

It is difficult to precisely quantify how many people use X because the company doesn't release those figures. But according to several analytics firms, X is not used as much as it was. 

"Basically everything is down on a year-over-year basis," said David Carr, from the web analytics firm SimilarWeb.

Ross Gerber, an investor in Twitter and vocal critic of the direction Mr Musk has taken, said the platform is "dying". 

"There's reality and there's fantasy. And the reality is, Twitter is dying and it needs to be saved," he said.

What we know for sure is a lot of big names have left the platform over the last year, including Elton John and Gigi Hadid. 

Former journalist Madeleine Dunne, who now works for digital marketing agency Story Shop, said she has more or less stopped using the platform because paying for blue tick verification - a change introduced by Mr Musk - has made it "hard to know who to trust." 

"Logging into X feels like stepping onto a sinking ship. The 'For You' page is a disaster - verified users on X Premium suffocate out everyone else, so very little of the content is actually stuff I'm interested in," she said. 

Subscriptions vs advertising 

The big challenge for X, and Twitter before it, is how to make money. In pursuit of that goal, Mr Musk has radically cut costs through lay-offs, a process which has been bruising for staff.

Melissa Ingle, who worked as a moderator, said her "stomach dropped" when her company logins abruptly stopped working.

"It was a very, very bad time for me," she told the BBC.

Twitter has always previously relied on advertising money, but Mr Musk has tried to bolster that with a separate subscription-based revenue stream, where users pay for a blue tick and other features. Recently he announced there would be two new tiers of premium subscriptions.

Those innovations haven't really changed things though - X is still heavily reliant on ad revenue, and worryingly for Mr Musk that is going down.

According to third-party data, monthly US ad revenue on the platform has declined at least 55% year-over-year each month since Mr Musk bought the company. The business has always struggled to break even - even before Mr Musk's involvement - making an annual profit just twice since its launch in 2006.

He has admitted it's a critical issue.

"Need to reach positive cash flow before we have the luxury of anything else," he said in a conversation earlier this year. 

Hopes for rebound as 'everything app'

The appointment of 'superwoman' Linda Yaccarino, previously head of advertising at NBCUniversal, as the X CEO - was seen as a positive milestone for the firm, creating distance between Mr Musk and the platform.

Dr Ben Marder, senior lecturer in marketing at University of Edinburgh Business School, said he didn't believe Ms Yaccarino had been "given the space needed to innovate" and instead she had been "rather strong-armed by Elon to focus on quick revenue fixes, which leaves only weapons in the arsenal that are more than likely to backfire - like the subscription model." 

Mr Musk wants employees to think big. His long-term plan for X is far greater than just a social media company. He wants X to be "an everything app."

When asked by the BBC earlier this year what this means he said: "I guess you will have to stay tuned to find out".

Perhaps the most specific public description of how X might expand came from Ms Yaccarino in July. 

"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," she said. 

"Powered by AI, X will connect us all in ways we're just beginning to imagine". 

We've already seen Mr Musk diversifying Twitter's offering. Earlier this month he streamed himself playing computer games. He hopes X could compete with apps like Twitch. 

On Thursday, he launched a new audio and video calls service which works without a phone number. Several users on the platform received a notification when opening the app, stating: "Audio and video calls are here!"

And then there are Mr Musk's X banking plans. 

According to the New York Times - which got hold of the pitch deck Mr Musk was giving to investors last year - X was supposed to bring in $15m from a payments business in 2023 - which would grow to about $1.3bn by 2028. 

Mr Gerber said when he invested, he was mainly investing because it was Elon Musk. 

"Really their pitch in a lot of ways was like, we're not sure what this will be. But trust us because it's Elon, and he's going to create something amazing," he said.

But a year later he's baffled by Mr Musk's plans for the company. "Will he make concessions with his absolutism on speech to bring back advertisers? Because that's what it really comes down to," he said. 

Moderation headache

Filtering out extreme material looks set to be an ongoing problem for X.

Research by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate showed that X continued to host nearly 86% of a set of 300 hateful posts collected a week after they were reported to moderators. The group is locked in a legal battle with the platform over its claims. 

Posts included those promoting antisemitism, racism and white supremacy. 

Imran Ahmed, founder of the group, said: "Musk's 12 months at the helm of X is a perfect case study of how naïve it is to expect digital platforms to self-regulate." 

So challenges abound for X - not that they appear to have dented Mr Musk's ambition too greatly. His pinned post on the platform he spent so much money acquiring reads: "X as humanity's collective consciousness."

Let that sink in.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.



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