Elon Musk's X is tilting right
The renaming from Twitter to X is no simple make-over. The changes cut deep. Elon Musk has publicly declared his aim: to turn X into an “everything app”. Here's an update on what happened so far. Image Credit: Shutterstock

X (formerly Twitter) is on a roll. It started in April 2022, when, after months of negotiations, US tech mogul Elon Musk successfully concluded his dramatic $44-billion acquisition of the micro-blogging site, takng it private in a deal finalised on October 27, 2022.

Then trouble, or so it seemed, started. A year later, Fortune estimated that X generated a little more than $600 million in advertising revenue per quarter. For the entire 2023, Twitter was estimated to have brought in $2.5 billion in advertising revenues, a 28-per cent drop compared to 2022, Bloomberg reported.

Revenues down: Why it matters?

Some reports, however, state Twitter/X generated $3.4 billion in 2023. This higher end of earnings estimates, it’s still way off the $5.01 billion it posted as a public company in 2021.

But counting the beans now, 15 months into Musk's “let that sink in” move, misses the point. The renaming from Twitter to X is no simple make-over. The revenue drop is nowhere near breaking point in a way that nearly broke Space X in 2006, when its first three failed Falcon rockets pushed Musk to the brink.

Musk has come a long way from his near-“bankwupt” moments, becoming the world’s second-richest businessman today.

Twitter X

Space X, with 13,000 on its payroll, has already hit $180 billion in valuation. It continues to send satellites to orbit, brings connectivity to the world’ remotest spots, frequents the International Space Station (ISS) using reusable rockets that land vertically. This, while Musk and Co, beats Toyota and Big Auto in their own game (with Tesla), and sets his sights on Mars, pouring billions to perfect Starship, the world’s biggest rocket.

Everything app

The changes at X cut deep. Musk has publicly declared his aim: to turn X into an “everything app”; at the very least, as a payments platform.

The journey has not been easy — he was gaslit for laying off 6,500 people and is taunted, insulted by many on his own platform. Yet top coders within the scaled-down X team (down to about 1,500 as of August 2023), now under new CEO Linda Yaccarino (who joined in June 2023), are hard at work to roll out payments on X.

Could X do with payments what Musk did to rockets, cars and brain implants? One key lies in government authorisations.

There are signs of progress. As of January 2024, X had already secured money-transfer licences in 12 US states – Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Wyoming, as per TechCrunch.

Musk has repeatedly proven a rare ability to disrupt industries. Steering X into e-commerce is not something beyond his ken. As a self-taught coder, he wrote the game Blastar at age 12, without formal training (later sold it for $500). Musk co-wrote the original code that runs PayPal, which revolutionised global payments. He sold it for $1.5 billion in 2002 to eBay, and PayPal is now averaging 41 million transactions/day, and earned $29.13 billion in 2023.

Despite the setbacks, X has grown its user base to 556 million (up from about 320 million in Q1 of 2019, as per Statista). But that pales in comparison to China's WeChat, the world's biggest stand-alone app, which has 1.33 billion users. WeChat earned $17.49 billion in 2021 (from $16.16 billion in 2020).

The e-commerce field is wide open. Rolling out something akin to China’s most popular social-cum-payments app would further widen options currently dominated by China's Ant Financial, a $320 billion behemoth, which has diligently become bigger than any bank in the world today.

Ant, the fintech affiliate of Alibaba Group, currently has an outsized power: it runs the engine behind numerous e-payment platforms, through its partnerships with 250 global financial institutions, and 2 million sellers in over 200 countries.

Big X challenge: Licensing

X, once it secures the necessary money-transfer licences from a good number of jurisdictions, could see adoption spike into an “S-curve”, further boosting global ecommerce. So, imagine sending e-cash gift to someone, or paying a supplier halfway across the globe, like you’re just tweeting.

It's not a given. Getting there may be stalled by big-power scuffles: X remains banned in certain countries, though many still find a way to continue using it. WeChat, in turn, is also banned in others.

Since the October takeover, the drama at Twitter, now renamed as X, continues to unfold. From lay-offs to rebranding, from talk of “free-speech” to allegations of disinformation, to new whiz-bang features, no two moments are the same. It continues to evolve, the sort of thing that comes with the simple joys of disrupting.

Here's a timeline of the key Twitter | X developments:

  • Rebranded as X.
  • Launched Ad revenue share program for creators.
  • Rolled out payments to creators under the revenue sharing programme.
  • Introduced 𝕏 hiring for verified organisations.
  • Reached a new all-time high of user-seconds.
  • Increased group chat size to 200 people.
  • Launched 𝕏 Pro.
  • Lowered the eligibility threshold for ads revenue sharing from 15M to 5M.
  • Rolled out vertical video ads.
  • Announced the removal of the tweepcred system.
  • Renamed 𝕏 Blue to 𝕏 Premium.
  • Announced the removal of the block feature except for DMs.
  • Improved live streaming quality.
  • Major upgrades to videos and media.
  • Announced that the company is close to breaking even financially.
  • Secured money transmission license in multiple states for 𝕏 payments.
  • Introduced video downloads for verified users.
  • Added an ability to accept DMs from verified users only to prevent spam.
  • Introduced DM support for ad customers.
  • Announced that 𝕏 will fund legal representation for users fired from their jobs for their 𝕏 activity.
  • Included posts from communities in the For You feed.
  • Renamed notes feature to articles with no character limits.
  • Added a highlights tab to profiles.
  • Improved account analytics.
  • Linda Yaccarino joined as the new CEO.
  • Elon Musk to continue working on product design & new technology.
  • Launched an early version of encrypted DMs.
  • Added an ability for community admins to spotlight their community in the profile.
  • Reduced child sexual abuse material by around 95% since the acquisition.
  • Introduced voice direct messages (DMs) & tweets.
  • Introduced highlights tab on profiles.
  • 90% of bot accounts are now deleted.
  • Introduced the ability to upload long videos.
  • Improved advertisement & brand safety.
  • Updated the auto-reply to their press email to "we will get back to you soon".
  • Introduced formatting for long-form tweets.
  • Extended community notes availability to more countries.
  • Introduced individual reply to DMs & custom emoji reactions.
  • Launched faster playback & mini-player for videos.
  • Announced that major advertisers are returning to the platform.
  • Continued user experience/interface (UX/UI) improvements.
  • Added list search feature to the web.
  • Reached 550 million+ total active users.
  • Released subscriptions for creators.
  • Open-sourced the code for recommended tweets.
  • Removed legacy checkmarks.
  • Prioritised verified accounts to fight spam and bots.
  • Added an airplay button for videos on iOS.
  • Incorporated as X Corp.
  • Added an ability to fast forward/rewind videos on 𝕏.
  • Became the most downloaded & #1 news app.
  • Improved ad relevance.
  • Introduced highlights tab for profiles (web).
  • All-time low hate speech levels.
  • Removed child porn.
  • Introduced rate limits to prevent data scraping.
  • Added fast forward/backward feature to videos.
  • Launched subscriber-only replies.
  • Launched spaces (live audio stream) on the web.
  • Added an ability to hide the blue checkmark.
  • Reduced scam accounts.
  • Most of the top 100 advertisers have now returned to spending on ads.
  • Released new features in the shortest time period in X's history.
  • Improved engagements for advertisers.
  • Exposed truth via Twitter files.
  • Removed censorship.
  • Restored free speech.
  • Launched long-form tweets.
  • Introduced Multiple organization affiliate badges.
  • Announced the discontinuity of Twitter circles feature.
  • Improved post analytics.
  • Community notes debunking propaganda & misstatements.
  • Introduced verified badges for organizations.
  • Plus: ID verification, tipping, payments, voice/video calling, ability to edit video clips within the app, new features for live streams, the feature to gift blue subscription, Twitter video app for Smart TVs, account status (ability to check if a user is shadow-banned and a reason for the same), translation feature for videos, swipe to reply in DMs, ability to rewind live spaces, improved media tab on profiles, tipping, etc.

The above list offers a glimpse of what's been done so far, as announced/claimed by X. Whether or not all — or none — of it is true, "x" will remain popular as a mathematical variable.

And whether X, the platform, nails e-payments or not, it's one of the biggest variables in its story from here out.