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Musk is killing the birds that once made Twitter the cute little application it pretended to be. Suddenly, it isn't so cute anymore. But what, exactly, is his plan for X? Keep reading to find out. Before you do, though, I have a question ...
What's the price of worshiping at the altar of X?
Everyone is talking about Elon Musk and X. Some of the biggest names in publishing are putting out some speculative content on what X means and where Musk is going with it. Here are a few of the mentionables:
The Atlantic waxes poetic about why Musk killed the bird. At least he didn't flip the bird!
The Verge explains what Musk's "everything app" is all about. I think they're on the verge of something.
Business Insider focuses on X becoming a financial services app. That's such a vague description that it could mean almost anything. Financial services is a broad category.
Tech Funding News highlights the era of "unlimited interactivity." Hmmmm ... Like everything else, it has its limitations.
Fortune riffs on Musk's obsession with the 24th letter of the alphabet. He uses X a lot.
CBS News didn't want to be left out of the conversation. Who can blame them?
And the rest of the world is talking on their blogs and social media accounts.
So, what is all the fuss about? What's in a name?
X Aspires to Be A Western WeChat
If we focus too much on the name, we'll miss the point. X isn't about the name, necessarily, though it's clear that Elon Musk has a thing for the letter X. He purchased the domain name X.com from PayPal, which he co-founded, just so he can use it again. It's now redirected to Twitter.com.
What is far more notable than the name is what Musk's plans for X are. In a nutshell, he wants it to be the "Everything App," and he wants to model it on WeChat.
Let that sink in. A South African-Canadian-American billionaire entrepreneur wants to model his business on a Chinese company. But what does that mean, exactly? Based on what we can glean from reports, and from Musk's own statements, it means something like this:
Whatever else X becomes, it will continue to be a social media application;
It will also provide some sort of financial services; most likely, that will include payments, though it could extend to other services such as online banking, lending, and maybe even incorporate cryptocurrencies;
It could include a job board;
Videoconferencing will likely be a key feature;
You'll also be able to watch movies, but you might have to pay for that;
There are rumors it could include some shopping opportunities (possibly to compete with Amazon?);
You may even be able to book restaurant reservations;
Perhaps even schedule an Uber, Lyft, or Tesla ride;
Subscribe to news feeds;
And probably much more
It appears as if Elon Musk wants to take over the world, one letter of the alphabet at a time. The big question is what would happen to Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Netflix, and all the other services we're currently using if we can get them all at X?
I seriously don't think X will capture the lion's share of the market in all of those categories. That doesn't mean it couldn't compete. I think it could, and there will be those who will prefer X over the leading brands in several of the categories, but I don't see X becoming the market leader in every category. If Musk's vision for anyone being able to send a payment anywhere in the world in real time becomes a reality, that could take a bite out of PayPal's business for sure. But would it involve a cryptocurrency, or fiat money? Maybe both.
What about streaming video? Could X compete with Amazon Prime and Netflix? It's doubtful.
Could X compete with Zoom and other leading videoconferencing apps? Possibly. But whether it can or can't, there will always be those who prefer to do business with another company. And if X grows too big, it will likely face regulators ready to strip it of its monopoly power, particularly if Musk uses his wealth to squelch competition.
As for me, I don't doubt Musk's business acumen, but I am skeptical about a his vision for an everything app. I'm not sure that I want an app that can do everything. It likely wouldn't be able to do them all well. And I'm not so enamored of Musk that I will continue to use X just because he's wealthy, successful, and politically aligned in all the right ways. I'm not even sure I want to continue using it now.
What Would Be the Cost of Worshiping At the Altar of X?
Circling back around to the primary question, let's say Musk succeeds in building his everything app. What would be the cost of going to X for everything you want or need? Let's think about that.
I can think of three very distinct negative repercussions for X becoming the go-to app for everything any of us want 24/7. Mass adoption could also lead to mass deterioration. Consider:
Monopolization of Services - Monopolies are not good for consumers. Competition is gold. If X succeeds in becoming the everything app, it would not be good for all of us. Once a company becomes the big gorilla in the forest, it begins to bully everyone including its own customers. Think of Microsoft and its Windows operating system, Amazon for independent authors and third-party sellers, and Google for search queries. Each of these companies fulfilled a market need when they first launched. They were well received and that's what led to their success. However, once they reached a certain level of success within the market, they began to change their policies such that anyone who violates them, even in a small way, finds themselves on the outside looking in. Windows customers are forced to upgrade to inferior software updates or lose access to key components (I'm still upset about losing Outlook Express). Amazon has created great opportunities for authors, but today authors have no other viable options when it comes to independent publishing, primarily because Amazon has bought the competition. Plus, Amazon is now the target of an antitrust lawsuit centered on Amazon Prime and third-party seller services. While Google isn't technically a monopoly, they hold a lot of power in determining which web pages rise to the top of search queries and it may not always be the ones with the best optimization. Likewise, if X succeeds in becoming the "everything app," it could become a chokepoint for internet services of various kinds.
Consolidation of Power - Related to the above, consolidation of power means that a company that achieves market success also achieves a level of political and social power that comes with the territory. That power is often translated into lobbying for laws that are favorable to the company and, in some cases, could lead to shutting out competition. We've already seen how Elon Musk has used his influence to call for a pause in artificial intelligence (AI) development, which, if that happened, could give him a competitive edge to implement AI with X at an opportune moment for him. Of course, his scheme did not succeed, but influence is long lasting.
Technological Entrenchment - The rise of technology is a good thing, but when it lands in the hands of capitalists, very often the profit takes center stage. Rather than use technology for the benefit of everyone, capitalists prefer to make technology available based on whether they can make money on it. Now, I'm not against capitalism, but relying on the profit motive for technological progress is not always good for consumers. As an example, Thomas Edison once electrocuted animals to prove that Nikola Tesla's alternative current technology was unsuitable. Edison was a fierce competitor, and a stalwart businessman, but Tesla was a scientific genius who threatened Edison's business model. As it turned out, Edison failed and alternating current became widely used, but Edison's willingness to do the unthinkable to protect his profits is an example of how technological entrenchment can stifle innovation. I believe X, should it succeed, could hinder Web3 development by giving one company market share and power that seems like progress but actually isn't. It may be an improvement over what currently exists in the marketplace, as far as popular opinion goes, but it might not be an improvement over what is possible should the best technology win.
My fear is that the average consumer is going to follow Musk simply because he's successful, smart, and wealthy. If X incorporates crypto technology in some sense, it will do so in a way that benefits Musk at the expense of decentralization. That certainly would not be progress when we already know that decentralization has its benefits. As long as X remains centralized and in the hands of one man, I don't expect it to advance to a point that it is beneficial for the greater number of people. It will benefit one man, for sure. The rest is up for grabs.
Allen Taylor is the author of Web3 Social: How Creators Are Changing the World Wide Web (And You Can Too!).