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Elon Musk says he’ll use Twitter to build an ‘everything app’ called X. Believe him.
Silicon Valley’s most successful serial founder plans to turn Twitter into an American WeChat. Here’s what that means.
After public bickering and flip-flopping, it appears that Elon Musk intends to buy Twitter at the original price of $44 billion. And Twitter intends to sell it to him.
But why? Musk revealed his plans in a tweet:
Last month, X was the “social network” Musk planned to launch if the Twitter deal didn’t happen. Musk has been implying for months that he might create a social network using the X.com domain that he owns.
When you’re a billionaire, the question of whether you can “afford” something isn’t based on whether you have the money. It’s based on whether you can get the money from the thing you’re buying — first from investors, then later from monetization.
For Musk, the question was: “How can I monetize Twitter quickly to make back my $44 billion?”
And now we know the answer to that question: Use Twitter to accelerate the creation of an everything app.
(One possibility is that Twitter is turned into X, or is made a feature of X. Another is that X is developed separately and Twitter is used for expertise and rapid scaling. The most likely is that Twitter becomes a feature of X.)
But wait! What’s an “everything app”?
An American WeChat
When Musk says “everything app,” he’s talking about what we tech nerds refer to as a superapp.
The Mother of All Superapps is China’s WeChat. The superapp, which has 900 million users and is owned by Tencent, is so important in China that Chinese people can barely function in society without it. It’s got social networking and messaging, banking, cash transfers and investment services, publication subscriptions, eCommerce, travel booking and many other services. You can order, book, reserve, track and pay for just about anything in China using WeChat, and most Chinese users do use it to buy and pay for just about everything.
That’s what Musk wants his X product to be — a global WeChat. Success in doing this would make Musk by far the most powerful person in technology.
What’s interesting about X as a superapp is that the initiative would unite his two earliest business passions — mapping and payments.
A return to Zip2 and Paypal
Musk’s very first startup was called Zip2, which he co-founded with his brother, Kimbal Musk, and Greg Kouri in 1995. It was an online city guide, which was used then almost like people today use Google Maps for finding businesses. They marketed it to newspapers. Zip2 enabled two-way conversations between users and advertisers. They sold Zip2 to Compaq in early 1999.
Musk’s second startup was X.com, a Silicon Valley online bank founded by Musk, Harris Fricker, Christopher Payne, and Ed Ho in late 1999. The company merged Confinity the next year, and the new company changed its name to PayPal.
Selling PayPal to eBay for $1.5 billion gave Musk the seed funding he needed to launch Tesla and SpaceX. (He later founded or co-founded The Boring Company, Neuralink and OpenAI.)
In addition to launching several major companies, Musk also uses existing companies to launch new businesses. For example, the car company Tesla veered into solar tiles, home batteries and humanoid robots. SpaceX.com became an internet provider.
And so if you can imagine an app that combines Twitter’s social networking, private messaging, photo and video sharing and news content, with Zip2’s “yellow pages” type content to access and catalogue businesses with X.com's full-service banking, you can imagine the foundations of Musk’s X superapp.
(Musk didn’t personally control the X.com domain until 2017, when he bought it for its “sentimental value.”)
Musk is a notorious over-promiser and under-deliverer. But here’s why you shouldn’t doubt Musk on this.
Mike’s List of Brilliantly Bad Ideas
1. This keyboard’s keys are all in one row. Why Japan? Why?
Engineers at Google Japan have created a new keyboard design where the keys are all in a single row. Called the Gboard Bar, the design may actually become available for purchase at some point. It’s also open source, and Google encourages makers to build their own. The keys are not in alphabetical order, but instead in rough QWERTY order, with the spacebar in the middle and the Esc key on the far left end.
2. Houseplant weaponized
A researcher and artist named David Bowen has irresponsibly armed a plant with a robot arm and a machete. He then added a micro-controller to convert electrical signals produced by the plant into movement by the knife-wielding robot arm. And now it’s payback time. (I’m probably in the minority, but I’d love to see this whole project bolted to one of those dog robots and let the plant control mobility, too.)
3. Spectacle of the moment: self-driving mops
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