Will Elon Musk be able to transform Twitter into X, the super app?

Will Elon Musk be able to transform Twitter into X, the super app?

    Elon Musk tries to turn Twitter into a super-app X

There have been some big changes to Twitter since it was acquired by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk in 2022.

Most noticeable is the name change, with the platform renamed to simply “X”. And not all of the changes have been universally welcomed. Returning accounts to previously banned users has sparked controversy. While no exact figures have been made public, it has been reported that this has led to an exodus of users and advertisers from the platform.

One thing Musk has been vocal about is his ambition to turn Twitter (sorry, X) into a “super app.”

What does this mean? The best example of a super app is probably Tencent’s WeChat. WeChat is a member of the unique group of apps and services which boasts more than 1 billion monthly active users. Other members of this group include Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. But what makes WeChat different is how widely it is integrated into the lives of its users, particularly in China.

In addition to social uses (such as messaging), it is used for broadcasting (one-to-many messaging), video conferencing, gaming, location tracking, and making digital payments. However, there are some significant differences in how WeChat is handled, in relation to politics, society and economy, compared to the big social apps popular in the West. Is Musk smart and innovative enough as an entrepreneur to overcome these problems? Or is his vision of “X: The Everything App” doomed to failure?

Why did Musk choose Twitter?

Twitter/X is different from other popular social media apps in that it traditionally focuses on “microblogging”. This involves sending short messages (tweets) often distilled into a single comment (or “take”), sometimes accompanied by images but, in the vast majority of cases, not.

It doesn’t boast the huge number of billions of active users of the biggest social sites (Facebook, Instagram), but what it does have is a hard core of highly engaged users: it is estimated that 10% of its 400 million active users are responsible of 92% of tweets. Its superusers post often and spend a lot of time browsing the service, interacting and discussing with each other.

What sets it apart is also its reputation as the “town hall” of the Internet. Anyone can come to the platform and have their say. If we want to know what a particular person – perhaps a politician, journalist, activist or celebrity – thinks about an issue, this is often the first place to look.

Statistics suggest that the main reasons Twitter/X is used in the US are “to get news” and “for entertainment”.

These factors make users interact with the platform very differently than Instagram or Facebook.

In reference to Musk’s plans, this raises an immediate question: Why does he think his users want the “town hall of the Internet” to become the “everything app”? It could be argued that other, more widely used social apps, such as Facebook, are already more deeply embedded in their users’ lives and used for a wider variety of purposes.

What is a superapp?

In simpler terms, the super app – or, in Musk’s words, “all app” – aims to integrate functionality from many different applications into a single tool.

First, let’s clarify one thing. When Musk says “all apps,” he specifically means a US version of WeChat.

Musk has openly expressed his admiration for WeChat, telling hosts of the All-In podcast, “If you’re in China, you live on WeChat. It does everything; it’s a bit like Twitter plus PayPal…it’s really a great app.”

Chinese citizens can use WeChat to communicate with friends, pay bills, access entertainment, book a doctor’s appointment, listen to music, and interact with any number of services such as online shopping, food delivery, and ride-sharing.

Of course, apps like Facebook also try to allow us to do a lot of this, with varying degrees of success. However, in the West, the user experience is much more fragmented. Users are more likely to go to YouTube to find videos, Spotify to listen to music, and Instagram to share pictures.

And it should come as no surprise that Musk sees Twitter’s potential to become a payment platform, considering his early success was built around PayPal, which was at one point called X.com.

He has also shown enthusiasm for the idea of ​​allowing users to make a living through the platform, having recently launched a program that allows top tweeters to receive a portion of the advertising revenue they earn.

But in taking such a bold step toward turning Twitter/X into his “app for everything,” there are several factors that Musk seems to have overlooked – or at least ignored.

Because Twitter could never be WeChat

Critics of Musk’s plans (and there are many) point to the fact that political, economic and social differences between China and the West have created vastly different environments for digital platforms.

The more diverse and less regulated technology industry in the West has given rise to many different technology ecosystems that compete in all fields. Unlike China, where there is a clear leader in every field: Ali Baba in retail, Baidu in research and Tencent in social.

These apps, which are market leaders in their respective industries in China, don’t face competition in the same way as US tech giants. One obvious reason is that services provided by US companies are banned, or severely restricted, by the Chinese government.

The Chinese government has also been known to monitor user data of its citizens who use WeChat (although reportedly not of its foreign users, who access the service through another EU-based company, which is subject to to all EU data and privacy regulations such as the GDPR). This highlights the fact that, in general, Western citizens – Musk’s target consumers – tend to have much higher privacy expectations than Chinese internet users. The concept of the super app is based on the fact that users will be willing to share their data between different applications and services built on the platform.

WeChat also allows developers to build apps that run on the platform, which is possible on Facebook but not on Twitter. This functionality should be available for any attempt to turn Twitter into an “everything” app to be successful.

All of these factors indicate that Twitter and WeChat operate in very different ecosystems in terms of competition, functionality and data sharing. Bridging this gap will likely pose significant challenges to anyone, even Elon Musk, who wants to build a Western super app.

Because trust is the determining factor of the success of X

To build the critical mass of users necessary for a super app to be successful, Musk must gain the trust of both users and developers who will populate the platform with tools and applications.

In the US and Europe, consumers are inherently wary of digital platforms with business models that involve the large-scale capture and processing of user data. We are all too aware of the threats of data theft and breach, and we are increasingly protecting our privacy. This could mean that users are less likely to join the requested numbers.

Any attempt to create such an app risks facing intense regulatory scrutiny due to competition and monopoly laws.

It is also likely that Musk’s plans will come under intense pressure from competitors. Meta (Facebook) has integrated payment systems into its Facebook, Instagram and Messenger platforms in recent years, and TikTok is investing in integrating e-commerce and online shopping features.

There’s a lot more to reveal about what’s going on here. We haven’t even hinted at the significance of CEO Linda Yaccarino’s statement that X will be “powered by artificial intelligenceor the implications of Musk firing 80% of Twitter staff.

Musk certainly has some lofty ambitions: to bring electric cars into the mainstream and to bring humans to Mars by being two of them. He has also shown that he is inclined to pursue less noble goals, such as trying to beat up Mark Zuckerberg or launching his own career as a television comedian. Where the creation of the “Western super app” fits on this scale remains to be seen, but one thing is certain it is never predictable, and the outcome of this latest project could prove surprising – for better or for worse.

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