First Principles | Musk must smell the coffee - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

First Principles | Musk must smell the coffee

Nov 11, 2022 05:46 PM IST

Twitter appears to be in chaos. Either Musk knows something most of us don’t, or he has lost the plot. To decode all this, we must begin at the beginning.

Last month I argued on these pages that Parag Agrawal has played his cards such that Musk will be compelled to buy out Twitter, and thereafter the place will slide into obscurity or eventually shut down. While both, obscurity and shutting down of Twitter seem like possibilities, Agrawal has since been fired along with 50% of the company’s workforce (including nearly all of Twitter’s India employees), what no one had imagined was the fury of Musk’s current onslaught. Add to it implementing ideas such as compelling people to pay so they get verified, and Twitter appears to be in chaos. Either Musk knows something most of us don’t, or he has lost the plot.

The good news for Musk though is that between the technology business going into a slump world over and his personal charisma, acquiring talent will not be an issue. (Reuters) PREMIUM
The good news for Musk though is that between the technology business going into a slump world over and his personal charisma, acquiring talent will not be an issue. (Reuters)

Last month I argued on these pages that Parag Agrawal has played his cards such that Musk will be compelled to buy out Twitter, and thereafter the place will slide into obscurity or eventually shut down. While both, obscurity and shutting down of Twitter seem like possibilities, Agrawal has since been fired along with 50% of the company’s workforce (including nearly all of Twitter’s India employees), what no one had imagined was the fury of Musk’s current onslaught. Add to it implementing ideas such as compelling people to pay so they get verified, and Twitter appears to be in chaos. Either Musk knows something most of us don’t, or he has lost the plot.

To decode all this, we must begin at the beginning. It is tempting to assume Twitter will implode soon because a ‘Great Exodus’ has begun to other social media platforms such as Mastodon. But the number of people joining Twitter has started growing since Musk’s entry. Raheel Khursheed, former Head of News for Twitter India, reckons this is because curiosity in Twitter is at an all-time high. This, he says, has to do with Musk’s rock star-like appeal. Khursheed, now based out of North America, is at work to build Laminar Global, a company that promises to offer content creators an altogether new kind of video streaming experience. He admits Twitter’s future looks fuzzy to most people who have seen it closely and understand the social media ecosystem intimately.

To begin with, axing 50% of jobs without giving it much thought was a terrible idea. When such large layoffs happen, explains Khursheed, as a thumb rule, the ‘50:25:25 formula’ kicks in. This suggests that of those who are left, 25% begin to look out for other opportunities and then only the 25% that remain from the original team understand the company’s blueprint. It means, a company’s institutional memory is practically wiped out.

When this happens at places such as a social media company, things can get very rough because this is a tough complex space to operate in. Khursheed isn’t convinced that Musk and his top team have acquired the experience to navigate it. He makes the point that while most people take for granted that Musk is a technologist, the fact is, his association is with ‘hardware-based’ entities such as SpaceX and Tesla. But social media is altogether different.

So, what makes social media ‘different’? Consider content moderation as a case in point. What is kosher in a certain context may not be kosher in another. To understand this, let’s do a thought experiment. Consider the word dog. While it is a species of animal, people use ‘dog’ to describe people in friendly banter and that is thought of as inoffensive. But ‘dog’ can be hurled as an invective as well and it is then perceived as pejorative in another context or culture.

Such learnings, Khursheed says, started seeping into people who manage social media networks as early as 2010. That is why they had started work on very nuanced content moderation policies and it baked into the algorithms as well. When looked at from that perspective, Musk’s arguments that he is a “Free Speech Absolutist” is dated. In any which case, that is the underlying principle on which all social media companies operate. But they figured that as networks grow large, there are issues they must pay attention to. Clearly, Musk hasn’t given it enough thought.

Perhaps, he hasn’t had the time. Because like I pointed out at the beginning, when the numbers are looked into, it appears Musk may have been compelled into the deal. Twitter’s debt had ballooned from $5.5 billion before Musk mounted his bid to $13.5 billion after he got into the fray. Advertising cannot underwrite the bills and the man must think up new ways to do the job.

The good news for Musk though is that between the technology business going into a slump world over and his personal charisma, acquiring talent will not be an issue. But the big question remains: Even with talent onboard, how will the company navigate, minus institutional memory?

Unlearning what Musk believes he understands will be a good beginning.

Unveiling 'Elections 2024: The Big Picture', a fresh segment in HT's talk show 'The Interview with Kumkum Chadha', where leaders across the political spectrum discuss the upcoming general elections. Watch Now!

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Sunday, March 03, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On