It’s honestly difficult to make any assessment of Elon Musk’s time in charge of Twitter as yet, because while he has made some bad decisions, he’s also reversed course on most of them, and while he continues to try things that seemingly have no chance of working out, he’s also not taking past precedent as definitive.
Which is maybe a good thing?
In the latest example of Musk’s shoot first, ask questions later management style, Elon has seemingly reversed the unpopular decision to charge for all usage of Twitter’s API, at least in some applications
Responding to feedback, Twitter will enable a light, write-only API for bots providing good content that is free
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 5, 2023
As per Elon’s tweet, Twitter will continue to allow ‘bots providing good content’ to access Twitter’s API for free, which looked set to be one of the key losses of Twitter’s recent decision to paywall all API access.
Though much of the angst in this case came down to poor communication – last week, Twitter announced that, starting February 9th, it would be cutting off free access to its API, which is the key connector that many third party apps and Twitter’s bots use to function.
Starting February 9, we will no longer support free access to the Twitter API, both v2 and v1.1. A paid basic tier will be available instead ????
— Twitter Dev (@TwitterDev) February 2, 2023
That triggered a strong response from the developer community, though a day later, Elon further explained that:
Yeah, free API is being abused badly right now by bot scammers & opinion manipulators. There’s no verification process or cost, so easy to spin up 100k bots to do bad things.
Just ~$100/month for API access with ID verification will clean things up greatly.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 2, 2023
This wasn’t an official announcement, nor was it communicated via the Twitter Developers account. This was Elon, in an exchange with another user, randomly providing valuable context that would have avoided much of the angst and concern that came with the original Twitter Dev statement.
Now, the bigger question is whether $100 is any disincentive to spammers, who likely make way more than that from bot activity. But regardless, $100 is likely affordable for most of the third-party apps which looked set to lose the most from this update in policy, so it’s actually nowhere near as bad as the first announcement seemed.
It’s just bad communication, and given that Twitter no longer has a comms department, that makes sense.
But it’s also the perfect microcosm of the Elon experience, which he both benefits and suffers from, though maybe not in equal measure.
The key thing to note is that Elon loves attention. His one undisputable skill is that he knows how to make headlines, how to get people looking his way, which is why his main money maker, Tesla, has never needed a comms department either. They just let Elon say whatever he likes, good or bad, and the press comes running – and in this respect, you can see how his approach to such announcements at Twitter actually helps them get wider coverage and awareness, as opposed to them being outlined through regular channels.
But is that a good thing? Getting the developer community offside seems like unnecessary collateral damage, while the negativity this creates also seems less conducive to functional working arrangements with external partners and suppliers.
It seems like that could be harmful for his companies, long term – but then again, the more transparent nature of such, and his willingness to change course in a responsive way, could also be beneficial. Maybe?
Essentially, what we’re getting with Twitter 2.0 is a window into Elon Musk’s ‘hardcore’ management style, which is not entirely reliant on internal debate and decision-making, and also takes into account audience response, and factors that into its process.
Which is actually, probably, better, at least in some ways. I mean, Twitter, in times past, took months, even years to gain any traction on updates, before rolling them out, then it was forced to stick with them, even if they were unpopular, due to the amount of time invested.
With 70% fewer staff, Musk doesn’t have that luxury, but he has repeatedly shown a willingness to listen to the case for and against each update, and shift tack accordingly.
So while he has made some bad decisions, and will continue to do so, Twitter is moving fast. It’s breaking things too, but it’s still running, and Musk seems confident that he can convert it into a revenue positive business sometime soon.
And now, your weather bots, your system updates, your automated accounts that let you know what you want via tweet, will continue to operate. Unless Elon changes his mind again.