Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter is imminent: he did it closed for three weeks his deal to buy the social media company for $44 billion. It’s a deal he wanted and then didn’t and (at least for now) reluctantly accepted.
Musk likely isn’t interested in improving Twitter’s advertising business or subscription business. It’s doubtful he even cares that much about rolling back content moderation or eliminate spamhis two favorite topics over the past six months.
Musk is never particularly interested in what he has or will soon have, but rather in something much further afield. Tesla isn’t just about making electric cars — it’s about it Accelerating the global transition to sustainable energy. SpaceX, his rocket company, isn’t just here to put things in space — it’s about finding a way to get people to Mars and “makes humanity multiplanetary.”
“Twitter purchase accelerates development of X, the everything app,” Musk tweeted Oct. 4.
What does that even mean?
Oh yes, X, the everything app. Of course.
As my colleague Adario Strange recently pointed out, Musk has used the nickname X as a surrogate for his business activities since at least 1999, when he used the X.com domain to launch an online bank, later renamed PayPal. Then of course there’s SpaceX and the Tesla Model X and one of Musk’s kids named X → A-12.
Well, X is Musk’s acronym for a super app similar to WeChat, which is Tencent’s own application ubiquitous in China for personal chats, business communication, shopping, social media, payments and much more. “You basically live off WeChat in China because it’s so useful and so helpful to your daily life,” Musk told Twitter staffers in June town meeting Weeks before he announced he no longer wanted to own Twitter.
“There is no WeChat movement outside of China,” Musk said at the time. “And I think there’s a real opportunity to do that.”
Definitely, Musk, who dreams of self-driving electric cars, commercial space travel, neural implants, lightning-fast train travel, and the absurd big tunnels is an odd fit for that app economy. It would be very bad for him there.
The app economy is different in China
It’s not that mobile apps are a bad deal. App analytics company Sensor Tower estimates spending on apps will exceed $270 billion by 2025. It’s more that Apple and Google are each cutting app subscription fees by a whopping 30%, although that cut has been the focus antitrust review and multiple lawsuits by developers.
Then there’s the likely regulatory battle Musk would face trying to build a super app.
“The more flexible regulatory environment in China at the time gave internet companies like Tencent and Alibaba more leeway to expand to a wide range of businesses. WeChat has benefited from this and developed into a super app,” emphasizes Forrester chief analyst Xiaofeng Wang. “It would be a lot harder now, given the tougher antimonopoly regulations in China, and it would certainly be harder for Twitter or the future X to do that in the US.”
WeChat too was created for a society in which trust in social media is lower than in much of the West. To to Forrester survey data for 202258% of consumers in China trust the content brands post on social media, compared to just 20% of consumers in the US.
Does the WeChat model make sense for Musk?
It is now It’s unclear whether US mobile users even want a super app, says Jasmine Enberg, influencer marketing and social commerce analyst at Insider Intelligence. “In the US, we’re used to using different apps for different activities, and old habits are hard to break.” We open Venmo to pay our friends, Spotify to listen to music, TikTok to watch short videos, and Slack to communicate with colleagues – and we generally agree with that.
WeChat has mini-programs or apps within the app. That’s one way Twitter could be owned by Musk, but right now that’s not too appealing. Twitter has less than 250 million monetizable daily active users (mDAU), far less than the 2.9 billion on Meta’s apps or the 1 billion+ on ByteDance’s TikTok.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle for Musk, and Twitter won’t become Platform X overnight,” Enberg said. “People in the US will need a strong incentive to shift from their current behavior to using a catch-all app for all their digital activities. And even if they’re willing to do it, there’s no guarantee they’ll want to do it on Twitter. Would it have been easier for Musk to build his Everything app from scratch? Maybe.”
If that’s the case, Musk will have spent $44 billion, plus heaps bank and legal fees for an app that does little more than connect and delight its users, 280 characters at a time.