Twitter blew

Last night, Alex Heath reported that Elon Musk wants to raise the price of Twitter Blue and require it for verification. It’s possible that this decision won’t backfire spectacularly, but I have concerns.

Misunderstood feature

At its core, this decision fundamentally misunderstands verification. First, it’s less a benefit for the verified user than it is for the rest of the users. It’s essentially a trust mechanism: this person is who they say they are. Verification means users can more easily determine if something was said by a politician or a clever impersonator.

Of course, misunderstanding verification is not unique to Elon Musk. Twitter has always been a company that doesn’t quite understand its product. Under previous leadership, Twitter has revoked the verified status of users who have repeatedly been bad actors on the platform. This signals that verification is some sort of approval, rather than identification.

No doubt some people will choose to pay the monthly fee in order to retain their blue checkmark. But for a lot of smaller celebrities, local journalists and politicians, and the like, the $20 per month fee doesn’t seem worthwhile. There’s a value mismatch, too: verification is a one-time activity; tying it to a monthly subscription makes no sense. (It will also be interesting to see how large companies handle this. A $20/month fee is rounding error to large companies. Will they see it as worthwhile to set that up in their accounting system or will they require the social media manager to expense it?)

Show me the money

The price increase is another matter. Twitter Blue’s feature set is marginally interesting to me. I’ve given some thought to paying for it in the past at the $5 price point. At $20, it makes absolutely no sense for me. At $20, you’re more expensive than Netflix, Disney+, and several other streaming services. Does Musk think that Twitter Blue offers a Netflix level of value over the free Twitter tier?

Maybe he plans to reach his goal of having half of Twitter’s revenue come from subscriptions by destroying the ad market instead. It’s hard to see this move as anything but “I’m going to stick it to all of those liberal blue check elitists.” Quadrupling the price of a subscription and extorting your most active users is some galaxy brain business shit, I guess.

Who wants to work for this guy?

Heath’s article also says that Musk gave the team until November 7 to deliver this or else they’re fired. There’s nothing like swooping in, making a stupid demand, and tying employment to a tight delivery timeline to chase employees away. Of course, Musk has said he wants to reduce the staff at Twitter, so this might be considered a feature. But the people most likely to leave are the high performers who can easily get a job elsewhere. Seems like those are the folks you’d most want to keep.

There’s also the stories about how Musk brought in Tesla engineers to review code. “Software engineering is software engineering,” supporters say. Bullshit. Talented software engineers can look at unfamiliar code and figure out what it does, yes. But car software and social media sites are not the same. They have different considerations. Any sufficiently old code base has a lot of history that makes seemingly bad choices actually be the best choice, unless you plan on starting over from scratch.

As I was scrolling in the middle of the night because my body is dumb and didn’t want to sleep, I saw a tweet from someone who just got the full self-driving beta for their Tesla. It reminded me of how detached Elon Musk’s timelines are from reality.

Why do I care?

I feel sorry for the people who work at Twitter. Their jobs got a lot more unpleasant on Friday and there’s not much they can do about it. More selfishly, I don’t want Twitter to implode. I’ve been able to make friends over the years with people whose interests barely overlap my own. My network is full of weather, technology, sports, English professors, locals of various pursuits, and other total strangers that I’m lucky to have found. If Twitter collapses, not everyone will run to the same place. Some will move to Mastodon or other Twitter-like services popping up. Others seem to be heading for Instagram. Some will probably just abandon social media all together.

I don’t care if Elon Musk succeeds or not. But I want Twitter to succeed.

Isn’t it better to contribute code than money?

Recently, I was in a discussion about making contributions to open source projects. One person said it would be nice if their employer gave each employee a budget that could be directed to open source projects at the employee’s discretion. The idea is that it would be a way for employees to support the specific projects that make their jobs or lives better. Another person said “isn’t it better to contribute” code to the project?

No, it is not. Even in software companies, a large percentage of employees lack the skills necessary to make meaningful code contributions to projects. Even when you consider (the very valuable) non-code contributions like documentation, testing, graphic design, et cetera. Money is quicker and easier.

Money gives the project maintainers to put it where they need it. They could buy test hardware, pay for web hosting, hire a contractor, buy themselves a nice cup of coffee. Whatever. This is the same reason charities prefer money over goods for disaster relief donations.

Of course, money isn’t perfect either. Not all projects are equipped to accept financial donations. Even if there’s a way to route money to them, they may not want to deal with tax implications. Loosely-governed projects may not have a good mechanism for deciding how to spend the money. Money can make relationships go south in a hurry.

If you’re a company looking for ways to let employees support the open source projects that they depend on, I advocate the “┬┐por que no los dos?” approach. Give your employees time to contribute effort in whatever way they’re able. But also give them a pool of money to sprinkle on the projects that provide value to your company.