Twitter – the hallmark text-based social platform – was pronounced dead on Sunday, July 23rd, 2023. The bluebird was just 17 years old.
What remains is a shell of the platform’s former image. Yet, for one man… the rubble in the ashes represents a dream, decades in the making, finally being realized.
For Elon Musk… 𝕏 is all he has ever wanted.
Early History of ‘X’
Elon Musk has been infatuated with the letter ‘X’ since the dawn of the internet.
His ties to the letter date back to the late 90s. After selling his first startup – Zip2 – to Compaq for over $300 million, he reinvested a lot of that money into a new venture called X.com.
Musk came up with the name, envisioning the company as the one-stop-shop for online banking – a concept that was in its infancy at the time.
A year later, in March of 2000, they merged with their competitor Cofinity… where they also gained the beloved product, PayPal. Musk took the mantle as CEO following the merger.
However, just six months later, the X.com board made the decision to oust Musk from the company. Soon after, X.com was rebranded to PayPal. And thus, the X.com domain was left dormant.
X in Space
In early 2001, Musk got intertwined with a nonprofit organization called Mars Society. Musk was intrigued by their desire to one day inhabit Mars and started to discuss early funding plans.
To accomplish this pipedream, they would need inhabitable rockets. Initially, they looked to outsource. But after talks in Moscow turned sour, Musk instead opted to start a company that could build affordable rockets for space.
In May 2002, Musk invested $100 million of his own capital and founded SpaceX… taking charge as the company’s CEO & Chief Engineer.
Dawning the familiar ‘X’ branding, SpaceX’s first launch took place in 2006. Although the rocket failed to reach Earth’s orbit, the spectacle was enough to catch the attention of NASA… who awarded SpaceX with a contract.
Two years later, SpaceX was able to successfully launch a rocket into orbit, and the company has continued to make significant strides toward its ultimate goal since.
X on the Road
While working on SpaceX, in February of 2004, Musk stumbled upon a startup that was looking to create electric cars. This concept piqued his interest, so he decided to invest $6.5 million.
This small startup was called Tesla.
Musk subsequently became the largest shareholder of the startup and was named chairman of the board of directors. He assumed an active role whilst Tesla’s first car – the Roadster – was being designed.
The car was officially unveiled two years later, in July of 2006. But while the reveal received critical acclaim, behind the scenes, there was internal turmoil brewing.
In August of 2007, Tesla CEO and co-founder Martin Eberhard was ousted from his position. What ensued was a tumultuous year for the startup, which saw Tesla’s two primary co-founders leave the company, along with the turnover of three different CEOs.
Eventually, in October of 2008, Musk stepped into the CEO role; and this is when the Tesla we know today started to form. Soon after, Musk’s patented ‘X’ branding hit the road with the release of the Tesla Model X – the company’s third car model.
Nearly two decades into its lifespan, Tesla stands tall as the leader in electric cars.
An early online bank: X.com
As Musk’s infatuation with the letter ‘X’ continued to show prevalence in his business ventures, the source of it all remained dormant.
Despite rebranding to PayPal, the company kept the valuable one-character .com web address in its vault. The defunct domain would be revitalized in July of 2017, though, when a familiar face offered the online banking company an unknown lump-sum of cash for the ownership rights.
Elon Musk was once again the owner of X.com. When asked why he re-purchased the old domain, he simply said it stemmed from the sentimental value he held for it.
Little did we know…
Elon & Twitter
When you launch hundred thousand dollar cars strapped to multi-million dollar rockets into space “for the lols,” people are going to pay attention to you.
Musk had garnered a significant following from his antics across social media; especially on a website called Twitter. Tweeting multiple times a day since creating his account in June of 2009, it’s safe to say that Musk at least enjoyed the website.
However, as the years passed, he started becoming more & more vocal about his disdain for “censorship”… and directed a lot of this rhetoric towards Twitter. He alleged the company was actively hampering freedom of speech through a subset of fine-tuned algorithms.
Looking to enact a change, Musk began buying shares of the company in January of 2022 – becoming the largest shareholder by April. Then, on April 14th, Musk made an offer to purchase the company.
After initial resistance from Twitter’s board, they unanimously accepted Musk’s buyout offer that totaled up to $44 billion on April 25th.
Elon Musk’s Acquisition of Twitter
In acquiring the company, Musk said that his goal would be to provide a new level of transparency, crack down on spam bots, and redirect Twitter’s algorithms to promote freedom of speech.
But in July of 2022, as the acquisition was being sorted, Musk made a surprise attempt to terminate the agreement. He argued that Twitter had breached their agreement by refusing to combat spam accounts. Twitter responded with a lawsuit, which was immediately scheduled for that upcoming October.
However, just weeks before the trial, Musk doubled back and decided to move forward with the acquisition. And on October 27th, 2022… Elon Musk was officially named Twitter’s new owner and CEO.
Out the gate, Musk restored previously-banned accounts – most notably restoring former United States president Donald Trump’s infamously banished Twitter account.
Then, not even a week into his ownership of the social media platform, Musk laid off 7,500 employees – cutting Twitter’s workforce down to half of its former stature. This was followed up by hundreds of employees resigning, resisting Musk’s vision of “Twitter 2.0”.
However, the first functional reform came when Musk set his sights on Twitter’s verification system…
Elon Musk & Twitter Blue
Musk utilized Twitter Blue as his vessel for this overhaul; Twitter’s paid service that had launched back in 2021, which introduced additional features geared toward the app’s power users.
Twitter’s verification system was subsequently strapped to the paywall of Twitter Blue. Now, anyone could pay $8 a month for a blue verification check. The purpose behind this stemmed from a larger initiative to make Twitter profitable through advertising revenue.
However, the repercussions of this poorly thought-out reform were immediately felt… as official accounts were being impersonated non-stop.
Most notably, Eli Lilly – an American pharmaceutical company – lost billions of dollars in shares after a Twitter user posed as the company went viral with a tweet promoting free insulin.
Eventually, recognizing that this was a problem, Musk’s team temporarily halted the Twitter Blue verification service. When it returned, they had split Twitter’s verification system into three color-specific tiers to separate casual users from recognizable brands.
Still, the damage dealt within this brief period was significant, with more controversial decisions along the horizon…
Elon Musk’s Resignation as Twitter’s CEO
Just two months (and many scandals) into his stint as Twitter CEO, Musk ran a poll asking whether he should step down as the CEO, saying he would abide by the results of the poll.
The results were in, and Musk had been ousted as CEO by the Twitter community.
He would eventually resign in May of 2023 after finding and appointing his successor, Linda Yaccarino – former chair of advertising for NBCUniversal.
Although he was no longer the company’s CEO, he still held onto an active role in the company – residing as the executive chair & CTO.
Twitter Rate Limit
Two months later, on July 1st, Twitter users were greeted with the news that they would now only be allowed to read a specified amount of tweets a day.
With Twitter’s new “rate limit,” unverified accounts would only be able to read 600 posts daily, while verified accounts would be able to see up to 6,000 posts daily. An obvious ploy to convert more users over to Twitter Blue, this move was met with site-wide condemnation.
To which, Musk responded by telling upset users to “touch grass”.
With tempers flaring at an all-time high, Twitter competitor Meta stepped in and launched their Twitter competitor ‘Threads.’ Launched just days after Twitter introduced rate limits, the app that reportedly wasn’t supposed to be launched for another month was expedited to capitalize on Twitter’s huge misstep.
Threads went on to become the fastest-growing social media app ever, gaining over 100 million users within the first week. Although Threads traffic stagnated and eventually fell off over the course of the following week, it dealt a major blow to Twitter’s traffic.
Musk and co. eventually caved on the implementation of rate limits, increasing the limits to 1,000 posts for non-verified users and 10,000 posts for verified users.
Later in the month, Musk released a poll asking users whether Twitter’s default color should be changed to black… which was met with resounding positivity.
But then, in a follow-up tweet, Musk announced that the Twitter brand would be replaced…
…with the letter X.
After outsourcing to his community for a logo, the bird design that represented the site for seventeen years was officially replaced.
A Rushed Rebrand
On the 24th of July, Musk took the previously dormant address ‘X.com’ and officially started redirecting it to Twitter.
Users subsequently started to see new logo imagery appearing on the site. But… there was an issue.
With the incredibly fast turnaround, references to “Twitter” and “tweets” were still visible across the site. The only thing that had actually changed from this marketing strategy was the bird image and the purging of any and all bird references.
Users immediately started to point out the inconsistencies, criticizing the rollout of the new branding. But this would only be the beginning…
Potential Legal Issues After the Rebrand
When you hastily rebrand the biggest text-based social media website in the world, you may miss a few things. Such as your direct competitor owning the social media trademark for ‘X.’
Mark Zuckerberg’s branding company carries the trademark registrations for ‘X’… and given the tumultuous relationship that already exists between the social media companies, this could get ugly.
Additionally, the ‘X’ logo – which was community outsourced – may have actually been stolen.
Users managed to track the Unicode character ‘X’ used for the logo down to a $30 font.
To take things even further, Musk seized the handle ‘@x’ (without warning) from an active user who registered their account over 16 years ago.
And instead of offering proper compensation, the team reportedly offered the user merchandise and a tour of the office.
Musk’s New Company – X Corp
Additionally, Musk swapped parent companies for X… replacing Twitter Inc. with his new company called ‘X Corp’.
Under X Corp – which is the billionaire owner’s application development company – he hopes to turn X into the ultimate “super app”.
A marketplace for ideas and your one-stop shop for image, video, and text fields of entertainment. X Corp has also been mentioned to be delving further into being an artificial intelligence company.
But all-in-all, this sounds like the plot for a Z-list supervillain movie.
The Future of
Whether you call it ‘X’ or Twitter… the platform is in a volatile state following the Twitter rebrand. The court of public opinion is not only against Musk – they largely see him as a joke.
Whether this will all work out in the end or not, time will tell.
But with potential room for lawsuits and a general lack of support in the numbers game, the future of this social media platform certainly hangs in the balance.
One thing is certain, though…
Twitter and the iconic bird will be missed.