It's been quite the week both on and at Twitter. So much has gone on that it can be difficult to know where to start.
Let's start at the beginning. Because that's where I started when writing this and things have changed every day since.
Come to think of it, it's been a long week writing one piece, too.
The Musk Era begins
A week ago, on Friday 30 October, Elon Musk's protracted $44 billion buyout of Twitter was completed. It was not a buyout that was well received, either by the people working in the Twitter offices or those who post to its 280-character social network. As much as a portion of the internet idolizes him, Elon Musk is far from universally liked.
To say that it's been a rollercoaster ride since then would be the understatement of the year. A lot has gone down.
Just before Musk actually managed to get the deal over the line, there were reports that he wanted to fire 75% of Twitter's staff once he did. Now, as I write this, it looks like he's instead firing half of the company — that's around 3,700 people.
The reason why Musk is clearing house is very much linked to the subject matter this piece was first supposed to dissect. He wants to cut costs and make more money, something that firing people will only half deal with. The other half needs an influx of recurring revenue. And for that, it was rumored that Musk intended to start charging verified users around $20 per month to keep that blue checkmark. People were not happy.
It later transpired that no, Twitter isn't going to charge people money for their checkmarks. At least, not explicitly. Instead, Twitter Blue is getting a revamp. And at $8 per month, it might sound expensive.
But I'm not so sure that it's that bad of an idea.
Twitter's great when it isn't being terrible
Only on Twitter can we watch a man worth $200 billion negotiate with a man worth $500 million about saving $12 a month. pic.twitter.com/pttRSHvTtcNovember 1, 2022
The whole reason that everyone is so invested in the Elon Musk-buys-Twitter saga is that we all use it. We might not always like using it, but we do use it. We continue to do that despite the spam problem and the terrible people that sometimes come across our timelines because it adds value to our lives. Whether that's our personal or professional lives, we use Twitter to connect with people.
Twitter has proven itself to be very good at connecting people.
Some people don't want to pay for Twitter, and that's fine. That's what ads are for and that's why websites like this one have ads, too. But what if you could, say, pay a fee to Twitter and get no ads. And get a great app to use it with?
One very clever man suggested just that when billionaire Musk was arguing with millionaire author Stephen King about paying $20 for Twitter.
I can fix this.Forget the blue check rubbish. Charge $4.99 per month for access to a chronological Twitter timeline, sans ads, and a mobile app that isn't lightyears behind every third-party version.Done. And I won't even ask for a cut. https://t.co/35xjSVjxQeNovember 1, 2022
Fast-forward a total of five hours, and Musk announced the new Twitter Blue. And he got it half right. But there's room for improvement.
The new Twitter blue gives users a number of things for $8 per month.
- A Twitter Verified checkmark.
- Half as many ads as they would normally deal with.
- Priority placement in replies, mentions, and search.
- The chance to post longer video and audio clips.
- The ability to bypass the paywall on websites that haven't signed up yet.
As I type this I'll say that I don't think that's a particularly bad deal, at least not for some of us.
Those of us who use Twitter for work will likely pay up, if only for that checkmark and reduced ads. Being verified on Twitter does lend you an air of legitimacy, whether it should or not. It might have originally been about making sure people couldn't impersonate others, but those days are long gone.
But here's the rub. This is also a terrible deal for most people, too.
Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month.November 1, 2022
If you ask people what their main problems with their Twitter experience are, they'll say two things — the mobile app is lacking compared to third-party alternatives, and there are too many ads. Musk's grand plan doesn't fix either of those things. Not really.
Sure, half as many ads is cool. But it's still half too many left in the timelines of those who use the official apps or website. And those apps still suck, too — partly because they're built to be cross-platform and partly because they're too focused on things Twitter shouldn't be focusing on. Spaces, I'm looking at you.
The rest of the new Twitter Blue features I could take or leave, I don't care. Paywall bypassing of websites is something I don't think is a big draw for most people, but I can imagine it might be for some. Remember that will only work when you click a link inside Twitter, though. You won't be able to turn up at the Bloomberg home page and start reading, for example – unless Musk plans for a much deeper partnership with publishers, which seems unlikely.
And then there's the Elon Musk problem
And all of this ignores the elephant in the room. Twitter's new owner and CEO, one Mr. Elon Musk.
It's already been made clear that he intends for Twitter to become a haven of "free speech" and calls himself a free speech absolutist — we'll save the discussion of what free speech actually means for another day. He's also said that he doesn't think that there should be lifelong bans for people on Twitter, no matter what they say or do. Twitter might have a bad rep for dealing with certain people, but at least it did eventually deal with them. Will it from here on out?
That's a problem advertisers are going to have to deal with as much as people like you and me. GM, Pfizer, and Audi have all reportedly pulled their ads from Twitter recently amid concerns that they could be placed alongside problematic tweets. And that's just the start.
That brings us right back to whether paying for Twitter is something people should do. That'll very much depend on the individual, but I know I'd pay for Twitter Blue if I could — it isn't available in the UK — but only for so long as it has a use.
If all of my followers leave, many being avenues for my work, that usefulness will disappear. Equally, the same goes for if my tolerance for Twitter trolls and spam artists is exceeded, too. Whether Musk's stewardship of Twitter makes either of those things more likely or not, we'll have to wait and see.
So, to sum up. What I think I'm basically saying is that yes, paying for Twitter would be a good idea. If the features were better and someone else was in charge. Maybe.
I'm glad we cleared that up.
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Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.
Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.