Home / Opinion / Views /  Musk’s Twitter rethink: Deceptively whimsical?

Elon Musk has done it again. Got our internet feeds abuzz, that is, with yet another grand ambition of his. If suspicions run high of his latest aim being fuelled by whimsy more than wisdom, pin them partly on his somersaults over buying Twitter, a platform that lets people webcast short little ‘tweets’. This high-profile takeover target first found in Tesla’s chief a critic of its free-speech policy, then the maker of a mega $44 billion offer to buy it, a post-inking deal rejector next who cited excessive fake accounts as a put-off, and finally an investor signalling that a possible break-up penalty of $1 billion wasn’t really his reason to go through with the buy-out after all. To mark his latest rethink, Musk issued this tweet: “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app." What did he have in mind? Did he want the platform to chase a trail blazed by Tencent’s WeChat? Backed by fintech enablers and Beijing, this Chinese app began with chats, moved on to ‘everything’ and now boasts of a billion users. “You basically live on WeChat in China, because it’s so… helpful to your daily life," Musk once told Twitter staff, “And I think if we could achieve that, or even close to that with Twitter, it would be an immense success." Yet, this goal seems like such a long shot, especially in the US market, that such talk could be a red- herring cover for a less risky plan.

Analysts see America’s retail market online as having matured to a stage of settled app usage, with little space left now for an all-in-one ‘super app’ to lure customers. In this view, a microblog app loaded with smooth payments can at best get an extra edge in other e-com fields, but not help it sprawl across the web to offer ‘everything’ and multiply its user base beyond today’s 300 million to either Tencent or Meta Inc levels. More significantly, while a state-favoured WeChat can easily thrive in statist China on advertising revenues and cuts taken on the vast variety of transactions it enables, ranging from a doctor’s fee to a food delivery, the existence of any such app would likely invite antitrust action in the US, which has begun to take its monopoly vigil seriously. Democracies know that the power wielded by an app a country’s citizens ‘live on’ is reason enough to watch out for its potential abuse.

That said, the concept of a mega app does hold potential. Global handset usage trends favour the rise of an ‘internet gateway’ for everyone in a grand winner-takes-all scenario. While the ‘network effects’ of our social need for contact continues to entice crowds for self-perpetual expansion, an app that serves as our first touchpoint of the day, for instance, would have an advantage over others should it opt to unfold into a mega portal that aims to meet our needs today and transform into a metaverse tomorrow. After all, it’s at the tip of our thumbs already. Given the way we use our gizmos, an app that has us glued could also have us cued. In high-flux markets, this prize is arguably still up for grabs. In fast-emerging India, Meta, which shelved its digital currency but owns WhatsApp, might be in play with Reliance Jio as its local partner, the Tata Group appears keen on a brand-focused super-app too, and big-base apps in various vertical domains have been in spread-out mode. And then there’s also the Open Network for Digital Commerce, another would-be overarching gateway. Like Musk’s X, they’re all sizing up chances that’ll vary by how they go about fanning out.

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