Yeah, this is not exactly surprising news.
A new investigation has found that X is restricting links to what it considers rival platforms, with users of Patreon, WhatsApp, and Messenger seeing significant load-time delays when linking through from the app.
As reported by The Markup:
“Twitter is now slowing down traffic on links to the crowdfunding site Patreon, WhatsApp, and at times, Meta’s Messenger app, a Markup analysis confirms. Using a tool launched by The Markup last month, readers discovered that links to these sites were delayed by an average of 2.5 seconds - findings we confirmed.”
That may not seem like a massive delay, but in practical application, it is, for most users, significant. It seems that X is looking to stop users from switching to these other platforms, as it offers its own variations of the same, or it may have rival features incoming, that it believes will negate the need to use these apps.
So it’s seemingly trying to stop you from going to them.
Which, as noted, is no surprise.
Earlier this year, reports indicated that X was throttling links to rival social media and publishing platforms, including Bluesky, Facebook, Instagram, and Substack. Further investigations found that X was also delaying load times for links to The New York Times, Reuters, and various other media outlets that had been singled out for criticism by Elon in his posts.
Which, given Musk’s clear disdain for the “mainstream media” is a list that grows almost daily, so if X is really looking to punish links to sites that Elon doesn’t like, I suspect there won’t be many websites that aren’t copping a load time penalty sometime soon as a result.
X has neither confirmed nor denied that it’s been limiting the flow of traffic to external sites, though there are notes within X’s open-sourced code which indicate that links to rival social apps, even if they’re just named in a post, will result in “de-boosting”.
6. Tweets mentioning competitors and out-of-network URLs will get deboosted.— Tibo (@tibo_maker) August 15, 2023
So avoid mentioning competitors (no links to YT videos or IG reels).
Using links to other tweets won't hurt. pic.twitter.com/cYPvE3N130
Musk is not known for playing well with others, or offering what he sees as free promotion via his platforms.
Shortly after Musk took over at the app, he also implemented a ban on the promotion of other social platforms, which extends to the use of link aggregators like linktr.ee and lnk.bio to help drive traffic to other sites.
For Elon, all publicity is valuable, and as such, it makes sense that he would not reflect well on essentially giving his competition a leg up, for free, within his planned “everything app”.
Seemingly, that now also incorporates publications that he disagrees with, and now and expanded set of rivals. And with X also set to launch its own version of Substack, as part of its long-form content push, this is all likely part of Elon’s broader effort to keep users in his own app, and shut out everything else.
Is that a good move?
It’s hard to say, because while it’s considered an extreme tactic, in variance to how social platforms have traditionally operated, it’s also worth noting that the previous Twitter platform had long struggled to turn a profit, so it wasn’t a “success” as such, despite its popularity.
Which means that X needs to do things differently, and maybe, this is part of making X a more viable, valuable platform.
But it also runs the risk of losing large segments of the app’s audience, with journalists and creators long using X to share content, in order to drive traffic back to their own, more monetizable properties.
The “everything app” concept, modeled on how messaging apps are used in China, makes some sense in building a more all-encompassing, self-contained eco-system. But the pathway to making that a success is initial ubiquity, in building an app that users can’t live without, then expanding from there.
I’m not sure that trying to lock people in will be the most effective way to reform user habits. The more likely outcome, at least based on what we’re seeing at this stage, is that it’ll just result in less X usage, as influential audience segments, like journalists, shift their attentions elsewhere.
But this may all be part of Elon’s grand plan, though it does feel like it’s driven more by spite than business logic.
We’ll find out, as X continues to restrict certain websites, apps, and whatever else Elon and Co. don’t like week to week.