“If we take him at his word, he’s interested in rebuilding people’s trust,” Bowders said. “I think especially with public figures and billionaires, it’s hard for us to know anyone’s motivations.”
Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, officially on Monday, sparked speculation about the social media company’s next product movements. Musk has teased big ideas, including a long-awaited edit button, identity verification to combat automated “bot” accounts, and clearer indications that content was algorithmically promoted or squashed. Musk’s agenda could lead to rapid trials and errors in the coming months, say product development experts. No matter what happens, users should tense up: In Twitterland, new features can disappear as quickly as they come, and it’s hard to make everyone happy.
Elon Musk heightens criticism of Twitter executives, prompting online attacks
The last few years have brought new features from the social media company, including the premium subscription Twitter Blue and audio chat room called Spaces. Some ideas – such as temporary “Fleets” and a separate tab for chronological feeds – were left on the floor of the rock room. Recently, the company completed its vote down button test, a spokeswoman said on Twitter without clarifying whether the feature will come back, and it is still testing the ability to tweet audio excerpts.
The spokeswoman said the company is always taking steps to make the discourse on the platform healthier and increase engagement. She declined to comment on Musk’s product ideas.
It’s normal for software companies like Twitter to test new features with groups of users and drop them if they do not pay, says Melissa Perri, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and CEO of Product Institute, an online training center for product management. Usually, the question is not whether users like the features, but whether they improve important metrics for the company, she noted.
Musk’s personality could set computerized decision-making in motion, she said.
“Twitter is great for killing features that don’t work. I know Elon is embracing failure, but there is a question as to whether he will be willing to kill his big efforts if they do not work,” she said.
Musk has shown a penchant for his companies to test new hardware and features before they are completely finished, taking risks that other companies’ legal teams and management teams can avoid. For example, Tesla, where Musk is CEO, has put technology it calls Full Self-Driving on public roads as a live beta test that releases updates every two weeks to fix bugs it finds in real time. And rocket company SpaceX, where he is also CEO, has not been shy about failed tests that see millions of dollars worth of equipment go up in flames while the company works to develop recyclable rockets.
Musk did not respond to a request for comment.
Musk’s Twitter ideas could follow suit, says John Cutler, who coaches companies in database-based product decisions at product analysis firm Amplitude. Edit button, like Twitter say was underway before Musk teased it a public poll, has some serious barriers to implementation, Cutler said. Most notably, writers were able to edit their posts after they were retweeted, and change the message that retweeters need to convey. During a TED interview on April 14, Musk suggested “resetting” all favorites and retweets after an edit, adding that he is open to other ideas.
It’s easy for someone with little experience in the social media industry to throw ideas out without considering the ripple effects or understanding the complicated social networking dynamics that even Twitter specialists may have a hard time analyzing, Cutler said. Making these ideas work is another matter.
“This story could easily end up with Elon Musk a year from now making a story about how Twitter is too entrenched or whatever, it’s so backwards, ‘I go back to rockets,'” Cutler said.
Faiz Siddiqui of San Francisco contributed to this report.