How Twitter is Being Destroyed Along With Countless Businesses and Lives

Aug 14, 2023

Twitter was a very useful social media platform I used the most. I rarely look at my Facebook or Instagram, usually, I have hundreds of notifications piled up. But Twitter was a great platform to quickly check in real-time if someone experiences the same service outage as you, or gather some information (for example seeing how great web3 is doing thanks to Molly White).

Elon Musk smoked too much pot and started to blabber about buying Twitter. He gave a knee-jerk price offer he quickly realized was too inflated and tried to back out of the binding agreement with various trumped-up reasons. Eventually he was forced to go through the transaction and a while after the 26th of October 2022 Elon Musk walked in with a sink to the San Francisco Twitter HQ orchestrating a visual pun of “let that sink in”. Unfortunately, everything else in this blog post is not funny.

Twitter had a tremendous amount of debt and Elon’s biggest task is to try to fix the finances. As one cost-saving he fired over 80% of Twitter employees. 80%, let that sink in. Probably this leaves barely enough employees to just keep the business operational. I have a hunch he would count on people working overtime like his other companies like Tesla, SpaceX, or NeuraLink. During a certain period at Tesla Musk famously slept in the manufacturing facilities trying to increase Model 3 production rates. I have a huge reserve for how much work-life balance someone could find when the example is like that.

Along that line, there were also plans to convert part of the San Francisco HQ into a Hotel, or some office rooms into living quarters for employees. Another move that actually would be handy if I was a developer there, but yet again catastrophic for work-life balance. Since we are talking about buildings I must mention that Elon Musk is pulling some despicable and low-blow moves: he simply doesn’t pay for the rent for the New York, London, and San Francisco locations. I understand the Lawyer’s characterization of San Francisco’s deterioration, however, if someone doesn’t like a location then they should move instead of not paying. Musk already moved some of his companies’ headquarters to Texas. It’s pretty irresponsible to not pay, because that doesn’t even put the landlord into a pickle, but causes a chain reaction. Large companies like Allianz behind some of the property trusts need to be helped by large banks with huge loans to survive Musk’s move.

Firing employees and not paying rent only decreases the spending side of the equation, but there’s also a need to increase the business income. This is the part I had the opportunity to watch in close view since Sportsboard - where I’m the Director of Product Engineering - relied heavily on Twitter. A recruiting chunk of the business revolves around prospective high school athletes who are desperately seeking athletic scholarship offers from colleges. It’s a convention that the athletes advertise their stats on Twitter and also Tweet whenever they get an offer from any college. They also Tweet about their selection process and finally the choice of the college to which they commit. Sportsboard knows the Twitter handles of the prospective athletes and peeked four times a day if any of the athletes had new offers. These reads were API calls and we could get away with free pricing tier.

I don’t even go into such details as that the v2 API doesn’t have all the functionality of the v1.1. That is almost non issue compared to the pricing debacle. Understandably Twitter needs money to patch the gigantic budget holes. However the way they went about it is incompetent Elon Musk dorky style. To understand better what happened here is an analogy: if Twitter was an airline, imagine these would be the ticket types:

  • Free: you carry your luggage and you run on the ground after the airplane
  • Basic: for $100 you cannot have any luggage and you hang off of the wheels of the airplane
  • Enterprise: for $42000 you can rent the whole plane out

I’m not kidding, read the referenced article about this. This didn’t fit any needs, 99.99% of the companies cannot afford the exorbitant Enterprise access level which contained enough rate limits than a grandma reading Twitter. Even companies who are big enough to possibly afford the Enterprise tier fed up: Microsoft gave the middle finger to this lunacy. It’s eye-watering to read that above the $42000 monthly price, there are also $125000 and $210000 tiers. The Yahoo article states that many businesses “suspend their Twitter integration projects”.

There was only one possibility left to deal with such incompetence: web scraping. Immediately after I saw the pricing tiers I predicted that a lot of developers’ only chance would be to resort to web scraping. Web scraping is finicky, ugly, unstable and almost like black magic. I truly hate web scraping from the bottom of my heart and some Twitter higher-up’s decisions (probably combined with some pot?) at caused me several months of grief I’ll never forget.

Scraping is slower than a pure data API request (thus bad for the client besides being finicky and unstable), and on the other side, it’s detrimental to Twitter as well because it puts ten times more pressure on the back-end than a simple API request: instead of just handing over the data React web framework works tirelessly to stitch together a page, inject advertisements and all kind of fluff only to hand that over to a bot which will strip it back down and consume it. It’s all-around bad.

It would be in everyone’s best interest to provide some reasonable pricing access levels. I can see how Leon Musk saw the size of the budget hole and gave the task to the analysts to query API subscriber numbers and activity. I truly want to believe that sane Twitter marketing people pleaded with Musk on their knees to not impose such tiers which are completely out of reality. But when you have too big of an ego and you are out of touch with reality, surrounded by yes men (who didn’t want to be fired with the 80%) you ignore the warnings and like a petulant child just go ahead with a bad decision.

My prediction came true and Twitter must have gotten the memo because after some time a new access tier appeared. Now the imaginary airline had these tickets:

  • Free: you carry your own luggage and you run on the ground after the airplane
  • Basic: for $100 you cannot have any luggage and you hang off of the wheels of the airplane
  • Pro: for $5000 you pay for a first-class seat but the rate limits are still ‘meh’, but you still cannot bring any luggage and you are nickel and dimed every turn of the way.
  • Enterprise: for $42000 you can rent the whole plane out

Notice, that the coach ticket that everyone would crave is still missing! What kind of marketing personnel are behind this? I don’t have a marketing degree but I can tell for sure without a doubt that the pricing structure is broken. I tried to find contact with any Twitter sales department (crawling for phone numbers, via Developer Forums, filling out forms) to no avail. The only thing I want is to have a coach ticket. This would result in more income for Twitter, it would be their interest as well. But Elon Musk’s style is a poop emoji instead of rationale.

All the scraping and the tier adjusment foreshadowed, but I could not predict one thing: that this whole swirling brown stinky cesspool mess will reach the Twitter end users. The end users might have already seen that some indicator accounts and services were not operating anymore, greatly decreasing the value and usefulness of the social media platform. But Elon Musk’s next step was unbelievable: he limited the number of Tweets read by a person to 600 a day! The reason behind the move was the high scraping activity. Elon Musk speculated AI companies training their large language models, but I’m pretty confident that simply just every nonbillionaire developer had to resort to scraping and that caused the “surprising” scraping uptick. End users don’t know anything about these behind the scene struggles and were dumbfounded.

This helped fuel Meta’s new Threads platform signups, Elon Musk yet again acted like a petulant child about that. As for SportsBoard I’d want to pay something which would be in-between the Basic and a Pro (let’s say $250/month with some reasonable rate limits), but Twitter doesn’t give any opportunity. We are moving away and gathering information from other sources.

Transforming the Twitter platform into something like WeChat in China is a good vision, however, after firing 80% of the developers it’s guaranteed that there are not enough developer resources to go through with a complete rehaul like that. WeChat’s big feature is that it is also a payment platform, that’s a whole other competency to have financial expertise, security, and banking (to name a few). And as long as there won’t be any half-reasonable API access level pricing you won’t see any income uptick, the whole platform will just sink into oblivion.

Elon Musk has undoubtedly some great ventures, but when your ego inflates to hot balloon size, you are being so draconian that people are walking on eggshells around you and you are effectively surrounded by yes men (even if you don’t recognize or admit it), combined with smoking too much pot, stubbornness and detachment from reality: this is a recipe for developing a disaster.

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