“If we take him at his word, he’s interested in restoring people’s trust,” Bowders said. “I think with public figures and billionaires in particular, it’s hard for us to really know anybody’s motives.”
Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, official since Monday, has sparked speculation about the social media company’s next product moves. Musk teased big ideas including a long-awaited edit button, identity authentication to combat automated “bot” accounts, and clearer indications that content has been algorithmically promoted or crushed. Musk’s program could lead to rapid trial and error in the coming months, according to product development experts. Whatever happens, users need to buckle up: in Twitterland, new features can disappear as quickly as they come, and it’s hard to make everyone happy.
Elon Musk beefs up criticism of Twitter executives, sparking online attacks
The past few years have brought new features to the social media company, including the Twitter Blue premium subscription and audio chat rooms called Spaces. Some ideas, such as temporary “fleets” and a separate tab for timeline streams, were left on the cutting room floor. The company recently concluded its downvote button test, a Twitter spokeswoman said without specifying whether the feature would return, and it’s still testing the option to tweet audio snippets.
The spokeswoman said the company is still taking steps to make the discourse on the platform healthier and boost engagement. She declined to comment on Musk’s product ideas.
It’s normal for software companies like Twitter to test new features with batches of users and abandon them if they don’t pay off, says Melissa Perri, a lecturer at Harvard Business School and chief executive of the Product Institute, a online training center. for product management. Usually, the question isn’t whether users like the features, but whether they improve metrics important to the business, she noted.
Musk’s personality could upend that data-driven decision-making, she said.
“Twitter is great at removing features that don’t work. I know Elon embraces failure, but you wonder if he’ll be willing to kill his big bets if they don’t work out,” she said.
Musk has shown a penchant at his companies for testing new hardware and features before they’re fully baked in, taking risks that other companies’ legal and management teams could eliminate. For example, Tesla, of which Musk is the CEO, has put the technology it calls Full Self-Driving on public roads as a live beta test, releasing updates roughly every two weeks to address bugs it finds in real time. And rocket company SpaceX, of which he is also CEO, hasn’t shied away from failed tests that see millions of dollars worth of equipment go to waste as the company strives to develop reusable rockets.
Musk did not respond to a request for comment.
Musk’s ideas on Twitter could follow, says John Cutler, who helps companies make data-driven product decisions at product analytics firm Amplitude. The edit button, which Twitter said was in progress before Musk teased him a public poll, has serious implementation hurdles, Cutler said. Specifically, authors could edit their posts after they’ve been retweeted and alter the message that retweeters are meant to convey. During an April 14 TED interview, Musk suggested “zeroing” all favorites and retweets during an edit, adding that he was open to other ideas.
It’s easy for someone with little experience in the social media industry to pitch ideas without considering the ripple effects or understanding the complex social media dynamics that even Twitter specialists can struggle with. to analyze, Cutler said. Making those ideas work is another matter.
“This story could easily end with Elon Musk a year from now concocting a story about how Twitter is too entrenched or whatever, it’s so retrograde, ‘I’m going back to rockets,'” Cutler said. .
Faiz Siddiqui in San Francisco contributed to this report.