It has been an interesting couple of weeks for two of the biggest U.S.-based names in tech.
Meta – formerly Facebook – launched Threads its ‘Twitter-killer’ conversation platform.
A week or so later Twitter beat Threads to it and killed itself in public before proclaiming its own second-coming using the monicker X.
Tech wars, it seems, were underway.
Facebook (as was) vs Twitter (as was).
But who to cheer for in the battle for our short form messaging favours?
Or, perhaps, the question is: ‘who do we most want to lose?’ in Zuckerberg vs Musk, the battle of the billionaire egos.
It started well for Threads, in the first few days they had record numbers of downloads – largely to Android devices – and it out-downloaded mega-trendsetter apps like Pokemon-Go as it raced to 150 million downloads in the first 14 days.
But that isn’t the whole story.
The surge of downloads in the first four or five days was nearly all of those, while the past 10 days have seen only a few million new accounts. Considering the EU hasn’t authorised a launch on their turf due to data privacy/sharing issues, to have reached 150 million in two weeks is still pretty tasty, even if the rate at which people are downloading has dried up significantly.
Why the spike then the drought? Already, it seems, users say it has lost its ‘shiny-newness’ which, in the eyes and digits of the attention-span-depleted Gen Z and Alphas, can be fatal.
One of the curious things about Threads was it was born ‘middle-aged’.
What do I mean? Rather than the organic growth which most tech platforms go through – Twitter had taken more than 15 years to grow and reach its peak of 500 million users – this platform on day one was stuffed with top brands, content generators and influencers well before the public and audience was there.
Consequently, the big brands’ use of Threads was pretty random.
It doesn’t have hashtags, it doesn’t make search easy, it doesn’t carry traditional advertising, so the big brand managers and creative content designers were making it up as they went along, more just to be there than achieve anything-in-particular.
Threads didn’t and still doesn’t have a Lingua Franca which users, brands and influencers have adopted. Some brands went ‘Twitter-esque’ with a dash of sarcasm and tongue in cheek fun, others went all Instagram and focused on imagery, while others practiced safe-texting and stuck to emojis and brand slogans.
On the upside, it is a ‘healthier’ place than Twitter had become. It has a clean aesthetic, and, without formal advertising, it isn’t interrupting too many of the fledgling conversations trying to take root.
Remember, it is still in Beta-proof of concept mode, a few updates have already been made, and with Meta’s billions and the ever popular and growing Instagram as a sibling, I think there is probably a place for a sane, polite, secure conversation platform which Threads aspires to be.
Let’s now look across the divide at Twitter’s conversion to X.
As with most things Elon Musk touches, it’s a wild ride. He doesn’t seem capable of doing things in thoughtful, logical and progressive way – its feet first, all in, every time.
Now, he’s a billionaire hundred times over so I should probably temper my criticism, but when it comes to brands, I think he has much to learn.
Twitter had already attained that status brand managers dream of.
It had entered our common vocabulary, like Hoover or BandAid it was the shorthand form for the entire product category and had morphed from just a noun to also being a verb: I tweet, you tweet, we tweeted.
So why kill it? Why give away or surrender all that brand equity in favour of something which at best is meaningless, and largely has negative connotations. The only valid reason to ditch a brand and start again is after a catastrophic legal melt down, a fundamental change in the size and scope of the business or a change in ownership.
Arthur Anderson had to become Accenture. Diageo is more than Guinness, and Altria was beyond tobacco.
As well as a name change, Musk has forgone a logo which was easily recognisable in a sea of scrolling apps, a colour scheme which stood out, and Larry the Bird – a friendly face for his not-so-friendly platform.
X means wrong in a quiz. X means restricted access for a movie. Generally, X means no.
Elon Musk has form with the 24th letter of the Alphabet – (the set of graphemes not Google).
Space travel, a version of his electric car and even his offspring carry the letter as their name.
What it does is remind everyone who is withdrawing their investments from his bigger projects that Elon Musk is ‘a bit strange’ and within his corporate organisation there appears to be no one to curb his ‘enthusiasm’.
His garbled explanation at the launch that X aspired to be a mega-App like the omnipresent WeChat in China, where government entry visas, online shopping, messaging services and entertainment content collide, isn’t that crazy.
What is bonkers is to destroy $4billion of brand asset value, crash the revenue stream Twitter provides, and lose the fidelity of hundreds of millions of users who are now bewildered and uncomfortable with the new product.
And why? It seems simply because, he didn’t invent Twitter, and his ego won’t allow that.
In a kind of dystopian tech-Pol Pot era, anything which exists BE – Before Elon – must be purged from the history books.
There will be many more twists in the saga of these two brands as they look to dominate the race.
Who will win? the slow, methodical tortoise that might be Threads, or the stimulant-fuelled Hare that is X.
We will soon find out.