April 10, 2023

Twitter's done for

In the popular metaphor, a frog dropped into a pot of boiling water will instantly hop out – but one placed in a pot of slowly warming water won’t. Instead, the imperceptible, gradual change will keep the frog there until he’s cooked.

It’s a valuable allegory. Except that’s not actually what happens when you go ahead and test this on an unfortunate real-life frog. A frog placed in boiling water will die, and one put into a warming pot will hop out. There’s always a point where enough’s enough.

It’s taken nearly half a year since Elon Musk took over Twitter, but it seems that the pot’s finally gotten warm enough where the frogs are jumping. Over the recent weeks and months, more and more staff have been laid off (even after the big cuts last year). The app is getting glitchier by the day. The verification system that enabled the platform to become a viable digital town square is so fundamentally corrupted that many notable individuals and organizations don’t even want it anymore. The “real” ads are comically off-mark, and the scammers are flooding every post with spam for crypto and supplements.

This is all coming at the same time as generative AI, led by ChatGPT, allows wannabe influencers to pump out intellectually-hollow content calendars in an effort to grow their following. While not generated by a large language model, the tweets and thoughts of Musk himself are impossible to ignore on the platform – being algorithmically shoved in every user’s face every time they open the app. By hook or by crook, he's now the most-followed account on the network.

It’s game over. The platform feels hollow. Dry. The lights are on, but nobody is home.

My wife has pointed out my addiction to Twitter many times over the years. She was correct (per usual). I would often take any spare moment waiting for the train or the barista as an opportunity to flick through my feed.

It was an addiction, but it felt like I was getting something out of it more often than not. In that scroll, I would learn something new, have a laugh, see an update from a friend, or simply just achieve the satisfied feeling of being “in the know.” That’s not the case anymore. Now, those payoffs are few and far between. At this point, opening the app is more muscle memory than anything else.

It’s sad that essentially one man can ruin something used by hundreds of millions. Twitter wasn’t perfect, but it was something valuable. And now it’s gone. This type of concentration of power in one (possibly unstable, definitely unserious) man is not healthy for our economy or society.

The lights will likely stay on over at Twitter for a while longer – I’m not as convinced that the technology itself will break beyond repair. And there will still be enough people using it that it can keep chugging along in its zombified state for a long time. Maybe even, on one glorious day, Musk will decide to sell off this lousy investment of his.

But, I think I’m ready to call it. Twitter’s done.

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just released his first book – Simply Put, and works with some cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my new book, it just came out.

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