“Twitter: Super-app’s super high-stakes bet.” David Lacombled column

The game is over. In just a few days, Elon Musk went from “Chief Twit”, listed in his Twitter bio during the acquisition of the platform last Friday, to the “Complaints Hotline Operator” (“responsible for the Complaints Office”) in view of the multiplication of requests, recriminations but also requests for reinstatement. If the richest man in the world paid 44 billion dollars to acquire it, the social network has developed a strong sense of co-ownership in each of its users. Habits and practices that border on conservatism can become serious obstacles to any development of the services and the model.

Twitter has become a planetary agora, where discussions are born, combined with an essential relay for the media, a playground for information, but also for disinformation. The butterfly effect became the “blue bird”, the network’s emblem. A tweet can be devastating. It’s mostly short written messages that are posted there, as originally in 2006. Since then, only micro-evolutions have been accepted by users (the “twitts”), not without lively debates, such as, in 2017, the duplication of messages posted at 280 characters or the possibility of publishing several linked messages in the form of a “thread” (message thread). On the other hand, the video turn undertaken with the production of short Vine formats or live broadcasting with Periscope has not been crowned with success. Far from it.

Digital Swiss Army Knife. In this regard, the strategy, more lenient than outlined, of transforming the platform, whose economic model is essentially based on the advertising audience, into a paying super-application – called “Super-App” – is a very high stake. The challenge here would be to become a Swiss Army knife capable of managing our digital lives in one place, bringing together a large number of functionalities ranging from e-commerce to payment systems, including information and communication. From omnipresent, the network would become omnipotent. Only Chinese WeChat can boast of having achieved this feat, strong, it is true, of a captive market and a billion users every day.

It is not certain that consumers are willing to pay for an additional layer of services when they are permanently used to free, even if it is an illusion, and to quality

In some ways, our smartphones today play this role of Super-app. Although its digital bill is already high (telecom operator + TV), it is not certain that consumers are willing to pay for an additional layer of services when they are permanently used to grace, even if it is an illusion, and quality. To do this, they know perfectly well how to juggle applications to get the most out of them without having to pay the costs that would result, for example, from using more memory and storage capacity. In addition, not putting all your eggs in one basket is also a matter of a certain degree of independence from platforms and protection of your own content. Thus, texts, photos, videos are hosted in different virtual locations where everyone knows perfectly how to find their goods.

If he intends, as he revealed in the spring, to quadruple the number of Twitter users, targeting one billion by the end of the decade, multiply his income by five, with a goal of revenue of 25 billion dollars, Elon Musk will have to solve this paradoxical equation that it consists of opening the network doors a little wider, running the risk of being less careful with the moderation of content in particular, while trying to sell, in a clean sense, the idea of ​​being in a safe environment. To win over a new audience, the idea of ​​using the Starlink satellite constellation, which the tycoon also owns, could be attractive despite the investments he would require where his creditors now need collateral. Furthermore, allowing access to its services would also mean opening it up to those of its competitors. Social networks, Twitter in the first place, are doomed to come to terms with the communities they helped create.

David Lacombled is president of Villa Numéris.

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