What if you woke up tomorrow and Twitter had disappeared, and in the place where it usually is on your phone, there was a weird ‘X’ icon instead?
That’d be strange, right? Years of brand equity has been built into the Twitter name, and terms like ‘Twitter’ and ‘tweets’ are now universally understood, to a large degree, as to what they represent. No business would forgo that type of brand recognition and resonance. Right?
This could actually happen very soon, with Elon Musk ramping up his references to ‘X’, his developing plan for an ‘everything app’, which thus far seems to involve in-stream payments, a bigger focus on video content, and various other potential functionalities, including job listings, dating elements, etc.
In Musk’s view, the broader mission of Twitter 2.0 extends beyond the parameters of the ‘Twitter’ name, and he’s now referring to the company as ‘X slash Twitter’ in interviews, and hinting at a coming name change for the app.
Even Twitter staff are adopting the 'X' name.
x— Andrea Conway (@ehikian) June 1, 2023
So what is ‘X’?
Elon actually came up with the X concept back in 1999, when he launched his first online banking startup named X.com.
X.com eventually merged with another finance startup called Confinity, in order to form a new, combined entity called PayPal – though that name was only established after Musk was ousted as CEO of the new business, due to disagreement about its future direction. Among the various disputes - Musk was insistent that the new organization should keep the X.com name, which he, apparently, had much bigger plans for.
Musk has since explained that, in his view, PayPal remains a ‘halfway version’ of what he believes could be done with online payments and transactions. His vision for X was to facilitate a broader range of use cases and business opportunities, starting with payments, then stemming into virtually every other type of transactional interaction that you can imagine.
Essentially, Musk viewed X.com as the Western version of WeChat, the Chinese messaging giant that’s now become a critical utility for billions of Chinese users. WeChat is a form of digital identity, with users able to use their WeChat credentials to make payments, facilitate transactions, pay bills, buy groceries, purchase train tickers – basically, WeChat is your personal digital barcode that plugs you into the broader Chinese economy.
And despite many others trying and failing to build a Western version of the same, Musk has held onto his own dreams of making X.com a reality, which is now what he sees as the future of Twitter, and the next key step for the app.
Much like Meta’s metaverse, Twitter is moving towards ‘X’, with both of their original Facebook and Twitter brand names to eventually be diluted out of existence.
Would that be a good move?
Well, it’s impossible to say. As noted, various platforms have tried to take a hold of the digital economy through their apps, and become bigger facilitators of payments, and other transactions. But Western audiences haven’t warmed to the idea as yet.
Meta is the most direct example. Back in 2016, Meta made a big push on adding more functionality into Messenger, with a view to parlaying its popularity into a ‘Western WeChat’. But users didn’t want to make payments, or play games, or really, do anything other than send messages in the app, and eventually, Meta had to scale back its functionality push in favor of streamlining the Messenger UI back to basics.
Meta’s since made WhatsApp, and developing markets, its focus on this front, with Meta looking to expand the utility of WhatsApp in India and Indonesia specifically, with payments being the key focus.
But obtaining regulatory approval in each region has slowed progress, while users still seem largely unconvinced that this is the best way forward for their future transactions. Facilitating remittance is a key step, but even then, Meta has spent over a decade building WhatsApp as a broader utility in India, and it’s still working to establish necessary connections with Indian authorities.
So while there is clear opportunity in this approach, no one has been able to do it successfully as yet. And again, even if you can get the necessary approvals, there’s nothing to suggest that Western users actually want to conduct more transactions in-stream.
Live shopping is another example. Live shopping is huge in China, with live transactions generating almost 3.5 trillion yuan ($US494 billion) last year alone. Yet, try as they might, neither TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube or Meta has been able to get live shopping to catch on in markets outside China, with Western audiences simply not showing the same level of interest as their Chinese counterparts.
That’s another indicator that some trends simply don’t convert, which could be a dampener on Musk’s ‘everything app’ plans.
But it seems that Elon’s going to give it a big push anyway, while the X.com platform will also incorporate his in-development X.ai project, a generative AI system designed to compete with OpenAI and Google’s DeepMind offerings.
It’s an ambitious approach, which will need a lot to go right to make it happen – but ambitious projects are seemingly Elon’s strength, and if anybody can get all of these elements into line, maybe Elon is the best hope.
But it could also mean that Twitter, as you know it, is not long for this world, with X.com set to become the larger offering that will incorporate tweets (or whatever name they might have next) among these other elements.
That will either make Twitter way more relevant, or see it die out if the pieces can’t be brought into alignment.
It seems strange to think that Twitter may not be around much longer, but you can expect to see a lot more references to ‘X’ moving forward.