This week’s podcast is about Elon Musk’s attempted purchase of Twitter. But it is really about how the control and curation of information flows how become a key issue in the digital age. The lack of effective curation at scale has become a major problem in society. Elon Musk may be the person to finally fix this.
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From the Concept Library, concepts for this article are:
- Information Flows
- Platform Failure, Interaction Failure and Curation at Scale
From the Company Library, companies for this article are:
Welcome welcome everybody. My name is Jeff Towson and this is the tech strategy podcast and the topic for today Can Elon Musk fix Twitter and save civilization? Now that’s a bit of hyperbole. That’s a bit of a cheeky headline It’s a bit overstated, but I’m not totally sure it is. I think there’s a reasonable chance that is actually maybe the scale and stakes that we’re talking about with this sort of big event happening right now with Elon Musk and social media and Twitter. So I’m gonna lay out an argument for why this is actually a much bigger deal than I think is somewhat being appreciated. So that’ll be the topic today. This is gonna be a little bit more high level, not as much Siri, but I’m gonna go into some concepts about information flows that I think are important to understand. Now, for those of you who are subscribers, I’ve sent you out some little bit of a deep dive on digital infrastructure in Thailand and really Southeast Asia. I’m gonna do more of that. So you’ll get more of that in the next week, specifically sort of the Ministry of Digital Economy of Thailand. I spoke with the head of Huawei for all of Asia Pacific. So I’ve been kind of digging into the infrastructure side a bit, because I think I sort of underappreciated what a big deal that can be. So that’s kind of what’s coming next. And then after that we’ll shift, so that’ll be the next several days, and then after that we’ll shift back to companies. So I do these little diversions more into infrastructure and theory, but then I try and go right back to company level thinking, because I think that’s kind of the most useful and sort of the least theoretical. Anyway, so that’s coming up. And for those of you who aren’t subscribers, if you wanna join in, feel free, go over to jeffthousen.com, sign up there for 30-day trial, see what you think. Last bit, as I mentioned, my book, Motes and Marathons Part Three is up. Ebook is on Amazon. I couldn’t get the paperback there, so I put it up on Barnes and Noble. So the paperback is there. That’s just sort of annoying. I’ll hopefully get that fixed. But both are available. We just have to go to two different places. And I think that’s it. Okay, standard disclaimer, nothing in this podcast or in my writing or website is investment advice. The numbers and information for me and any guests may be incorrect. The views in Express may no longer be relevant or accurate. Overall, investing is risky. This is not investment advice. Do your own research. And with that, let’s get into the topic. Now, I have really two concepts for today. First one is information flows. It’s not really a concept. It’s just a way of thinking about the internet and a connected world. and that people talk about data, data is the new oil. I don’t think data is the new oil. I think information flows are the strategic asset that matters. Oil, you could argue, a country like Saudi Arabia has a lot of power because it has sort of a strategic position in oil. It can shift the numbers because it’s sort of at a control point. control of the information flows is turning out to be a very important strategic asset that you can use. So I’ll talk about that. I’ll talk about Alan Zhang and WeChat and he talks about this quite a bit. So that’s kind of one. So it’s not really a let’s say a business framework or concept, but it’s kind of an important idea to think about. The other idea is why do platforms fail? So I’ve written past articles titled like seven reasons for platform failure. And really when we’re talking about platform failure, we’re talking about interaction failure. If you go on a marketplace and you buy five items and three of them are broken, when you get them, you’re not gonna go back. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you’re not gonna go back. Platforms tend to die because of interaction failure. And I think when we start looking at information flows, that’s what we’re seeing as a fundamental problem right now. We’re seeing widespread interaction failure. in public communication, public discourse. You could also call that the curation at scale problem. But basically, okay, so we’re kinda getting fuzzy stuff here because I’m gonna talk at a bit higher level than normal. But think about information flows and think about why platform fail, a platform would fail, and often it’s really interaction failure. If you go on a dating site and everyone is terrible, that’s interaction failure. If you can’t find someone you wanna talk to, interaction failure. if you try and send money through Uniswap and the payment doesn’t go through for some technical reason, interaction failure. In a connected world, failed interactions or inefficient or stupid interactions are a problem. And I think a lot of what the Twitter situation is about, I think Twitter has a massive problem with interaction failure. And I think that’s not limited to them. I think that is a fundamental technological problem. that nobody has figured out how to solve. Anyways, I’ll tee up my argument, but that’s basically two ideas for today. A little bit high level. Okay, so with that, let me give you sort of a basic argument. Now, a little over two years ago, I was in like right before COVID, like days before China shut down, I was in Guangzhou. And I was at the WeChat Open Conference, sort of doing the influencer thing. And, you know, Alan Zhang, the guy, they call him the founder of WeChat. He’s not really the founder. He was an executive at Tencent and he led the project team. And he has sort of been the steward of China’s biggest social media platform. I mean, it’s a massive platform, but he’s kind of set the values and the behavior. And it’s completely different than say what Mark Zuckerberg did or what Jack Dorsey did, and it’s really about a belief. of how social media should function. And I think he got it right. I mean, I think he was far closer to the mark of what healthy and constructive social media looks like as opposed to dysfunctional. I mean, Twitter’s like a hate fest. Facebook made the very clear decision early on that we want all the information to be public. and then we’re gonna make money by advertising and we want more engagement. Alan Zhang really went the other direction. He argued that public commentary is unhealthy. I’m just paraphrasing here, because in life you act very differently when you are saying things publicly as opposed to privately with your friends and your family. You’re a very different person. Your public persona is not your authentic self. There’s a lot of weird and mostly bad psychology that happens. So he argued that social media should be used sparingly. It should be a place that you have private conversations and it should be a place that is a utility, not somewhere you spend all day, which is the exact opposite of what Facebook tried to do. Anyways, there was a lot there. This is 2020-ish. I got out just in time back to Bangkok, China shut down. I missed that one by a couple of days. So, but. He gave a lot of talks about information flows. If you go online, he gives like these four hour talks. You can find shorter ones. Just look up Alan Zhang and you’ll see it. He’ll talk a lot of, I’m gonna paraphrase his argument in a moment, but. Anyways, so that’s kind of part of it. I’ve been mulling over the idea of information flows for quite a while. And then a couple days ago, I was chatting with my mom and you know. She’s a retired former school teacher, housewife, living in California with my father. And she’s talking about Ukraine, and the war in Ukraine, what’s going on in Ukraine. And I’m just kinda like, it really struck me. I’m like, why are you thinking about this? Like, why does a retired school teacher in California thinking about this? And why do you care about you? And she cared about it. She was talking, she was really following it. I’m like, why do you care about this and not say the financial collapse of Sri Lanka, which is happening right now? She didn’t know about that one. If she did know about it, it didn’t resonate. It wasn’t a priority. She didn’t care about it. Not that she doesn’t care, but it’s just not on her radar. So you start to think, why do certain topics become important and why not? There was a big school shooting. in the US came a big event, political, cultural. There was another one several days later, nobody cared. It was smaller, but still bad. Nobody cared. In fact, there’s how many there’s been in the last year, 10. Why did one matter and the others don’t? And so there’s this meme that goes around Twitter in particular where people, the joke is like, I care about the… the new thing. I care about the current thing. And it’s this argument that like if you want to be virtuous, you have to care deeply about whatever the current thing happens to be. And the current thing is not Sri Lanka. It’s Ukraine. And before Ukraine, the current thing was COVID. And then for a week, the current thing was Will Smith hitting someone. And there’s this idea that the current thing keeps changing in real time. and people jump on it, it’s very important, and then it kinda goes away. Some things, but most things don’t become the current thing, and if it is the current thing, it doesn’t last very long. So there’s all these kind of, you know, there’s a lot of weird stuff happening. It’s clear that something is not working, something profound. People are jumping from topic to topic. What’s the cure for COVID? At least in the United States, the cure for COVID turned out to be Ukraine. Like, it was weird. Everyone’s all about COVID, all about COVID. And then the Ukraine war started, and suddenly it just disappeared as a topic. It’s like, it’s just gone. And so what I’ve been kind of thinking about is… this sort of misinformation, disinformation, the new current thing, what gets paid attention to, what doesn’t. It’s shifting in real time. And I think this is my little working pet theory. I think this has always been happening. I think this is the way we are. I think this is the way information flows shape people, shape the narrative, shape society. I think the digitization of information flows. has made it faster than it used to be and it has made it more powerful than it used to be. And that’s why it’s becoming more visible. I think we’re seeing something that’s always been going on. It’s just happening faster in a more sweeping fashion. You can sort of see it now, but you could argue that this has been going on forever in various forms. It’s just kind of slower and evolving. So that’s kind of my working theory, that the digitization of information flows has made this phenomenon more visible than it ever has been. I’m still thinking about it, but so here’s sort of my working conclusion. That human beings are far more shaped by information flows than I ever appreciated before. And information flows could be we’re going to censor this topic because we don’t think it’s true. We’re going to censor this topic or this action or this type of commentary because we don’t think it’s appropriate. pornography, nudity, swearing. We’re gonna promote this type of information in the information flows because we think it represents good values. Happens in church, happens in monasteries, and they tell you how you should behave. We’re gonna shape this type of history and elevate these stories, and that will give you your perception of what is history and what is not. We are gonna elevate these stories, ignore these, delete others, and that’s gonna give you your perception of what the news is. So shaping of information flows, it pretty much, I’m coming more to the conclusion that human beings are programmed. And the shaping of information flows determine our values. They determine what we consider news and what we don’t consider news. They consider what we view as history, how we view the world and our behavior. Now, I think that’s always been going on. And within that process, I think we have always had local editors, people who perform an editorial function. So let’s say a regular newspaper, the Boston Globe, for a hundred years, however old it is, there was always a person or a team that made the editorial decision. This is what we’re putting on the news page, the front page. This is a story we’re covering. This is a story we’re not covering. They did the curation function. They did the editorial function. They determined what was on the newspaper. The local editors were very important in the shaping of information flows. But so was the local TV anchor person, the person on the news. And these were very prominent positions in society, had a lot to do with trust. Here’s Tom Brokaw, here’s the editor of the New York Times. So we see this shaping function, this… local editorial function on the news, TV. We saw it on newspapers, city by city by city. We see it in churches where the priest or in a synagogue, the rabbi or in Buddhism, the religion would be largely doing the curation function in terms of this is appropriate values, this is what you should describe to be. They’re doing the same effective role, it’s a local editorial function, this behavior is inappropriate. We don’t like swearing in church. We don’t like you to have bare arms and legs at the temple. School teachers play the same role. Local editorial function. This is history. This is the history of Thailand. This is the history of Japan. These are the key events. This is how, you know, parents obviously do this. So you can see, here’s my working thesis is we have always lived within narratives and we have always lived within information flows that have been actively curated by let’s call it local editors who are mostly at the city level or the country level or the culture level and that is kind of how we think about the world and how we see it and what has happened but overwhelming that the editorial function was fairly slow it happened over decades and it was fairly local. As we have digitized information flows, it has moved from the local level up to the national level and really up to the international level where suddenly Facebook and Twitter and Google search and YouTube, they determine what people in Thailand and Japan see, not the local TV editors anymore. For the most part, that’s true. The local newspaper editors have been supplanted by these sort of global editors who can often be very disconnected from society, especially if like they’re mostly in Silicon Valley, not counting China. So one, they’re very disconnected from say Indonesia. And the other factor is the demographics of these people in Silicon Valley is overwhelmingly far left. Like I mean, the numbers are very clear. Everyone who works at Google, everyone who works at Facebook, they are way out there in terms of their boating patterns and beliefs and whatever. So you’ve got sort of one very specific group having an editorial function, which is problematic. So one, I think we’ve seen it move from the local level to the international level. In China, it went to the national level, WeChat, Weibo. It’s become much more powerful. It’s become faster. And I think that’s kind of what we’re seeing, is the mechanism is more visible than it ever was. But I think it’s always been going on. And within all of that, that’s one set of problems. But also with that, there’s another problem. It’s one thing to choose the local news stories that matter in Jakarta for Indonesians with a local news team deciding those things. When you move to the international level, you start to confront a technology problem, which I call curation at scale. How do you curate information? downplay others, delete some, get rid of the misinformation. How do you do any of that at very, very large scale? That’s a technology problem. And as far as I can tell, nobody knows how to do it. There’s bots everywhere, there’s fake stuff everywhere, Twitter’s censoring people left and right. Half of the time it’s idiotic and it makes no sense. YouTube is trying to… say certain videos are acceptable and certain ones aren’t, or certain should be elevated and certain not. But there’s no way to watch all those videos. There’s no human way to watch all those millions and millions of videos and understand what’s in them and then make the decision the way a local newspaper editor would have. So this whole idea of curation at scale is a technology problem that nobody has solved. And I think that’s why we’re getting wide-scale interaction failure in all of these things. That’s my working thesis. Okay, let me talk about Alan Jong because he’s kind of the master at this. He’s like the Steve Jobs of social media. He seems to have figured it out better than anybody else. And he figured it out first, in my opinion. Here’s his argument, which I’ve written about before. If you want to read about it, go to my website, just search Alan Jong or WeChat and you’ll see my articles. This isn’t me paraphrasing a talk he gave. His argument was smartphones have changed the nature of information flows. It used to be the information flows you consumed were largely from your physical location. You walk around your hometown. You might travel around your country, you know people, you go to a local school, you might go to the local temple, you might go to the local synagogue. But the information flows that you were exposed to were overwhelmingly from the physical world and it was mostly a local thing because you could only be in one place. The smartphone basically shifted your attention from the real world to that little small screen in your pocket. The information flows you are consuming are overwhelmingly coming from your smartphone screen, not from the physical world. The amount of information you consume on a smartphone dwarfs the information you get in the rest of life. And everything that comes out of a smartphone has already been curated by someone. If you search for Google, I’m looking up good places to go in Indonesia. I’m not going to see a hundred thousand results. I’m going to see ten. Well, somebody chose those ten. So I’m not seeing the real world. And that’s assuming it’s an active search. In that case, I actually looked and searched for something. So I kind of chose the question. That’s a pull model. Most of the information you consume on your smartphone is not by an active search, or it’s not by a pull model. Most of it is passive. that it’s a push model, that it’s a newsfeed. You’re just staring at TikTok or Twitter or the Facebook newsfeed or YouTube and they are teeing up one video after the next without your input. most information consumption is passive. And in that case, the curation, the editorial function that they’re doing is much more powerful. And the two things you look for is you look for the newsfeed and you look for notifications. Those two mechanisms, that’s the push model for information that comes out of your smartphone. Okay, so Alan talks about how important this is. And then he asked the question, okay, well, who controls that? Who’s doing the editorial function? In most cases, nobody’s doing it. I mean, there’s no editor, there’s no human editor for the most part. There’s a little bit, but not very much. It’s mostly an algorithm. Well, an algorithm is kind of brainless. What is the interest of the algorithm that has been set up? Oftentimes, It’s just getting you to watch more. It’s about maximizing screen time so they can serve you ads. Well, that’s a terrible way to choose what people see. That’s not good or bad, that’s just stupid. So stuff that is outrageous gets your attention, so that’s what they load up the newsfeed with, and your information flows are curated along a very stupid line. And now sometimes it’s a malicious actor. where they are actively pushing you information because they have some sort of agenda. That’s bad. And oftentimes, it’s just brainless. There’s no thought going into it. It’s just a company that maybe doesn’t even make any sense. So you’re consuming, you know, it could be malicious. It could be self-interested or it could just be completely random. None of those are good ways to curate. the primary information flows that are shaping your thinking, your worldview, your values, your sense of news, your sense of what’s the current thing that matters. Because nobody knows how to do it. It’s a tech problem. If you hire a bunch of people, if you have the bots do it, or I’m sorry, the algorithms do it, they’re not very smart. If you have people flagging things for human inspection, that’s not very good either. Nobody knows how to fix it. And that’s kind of the problem is these newsfeeds are terrible. Twitter is full of bots. It may well be 10, 20, 30% fake accounts. Um, there’s these estimates floating around. Joe Biden has something like 70, I don’t know, something like maybe half of his followers on Twitter are not real. I mean, there’s this crazy stuff going on. It’s a broken system. So you could argue that all of this is a technology problem because nobody knows how to do curation at scale. Nobody knows how to do the editorial function at digital scale where we’re talking about billions of videos. That’s very different than a local newspaper editor choosing what story to go with today. And you could argue, and I do, that I think this has been absolutely devastating. across society. I don’t think it’s a little problem. I think people are angry all the time. I think societies are being torn apart. I think people are at people’s throats. I think people are lurching from the current thing to the current thing to the current thing. And if you look at the top 10 news stories every month over the last year, it’s just like they’ve been forgotten. Nobody cares. It was a huge deal in August. In September, nobody cares. And you look back at the major news stories and you realize half of the stories weren’t even true. A lot of politics is in that. Donald Trump colluded with Russia. Turns out that’s pretty much not true at all. Like the number of things that have just looked back and you’re like, dude, that wasn’t even real. But it was a major thing. So there’s this argument that things are broken in a way they haven’t been before. That’s a problem. I think it’s been devastating. I think it’s been devastating for local communities. There’s another issue that it turns out control of the information flows is almost an irresistible source of power. And everyone’s trying to get their hands on the wheel. Governments are all starting to say, we were going to pass laws about what you can say and what you can’t say. Tech companies are doing it. It’s too much power. Everyone wants to control it. It’s attracting too many people. So there’s a good quote floating around about Web 3. decentralized sort. Decentralization is about breaking up these power centers. And the argument, which I think is quite compelling, is Google’s mantra was don’t be evil, which I think they have abandoned in my opinion. And the Web3 people are saying, look, don’t be evil didn’t work. It needs to be, can’t be evil. We need systems where being evil is not possible. because it’s too much power. So don’t be evil needs to become can’t be evil. That’s web two to web three. And in result, let’s say we have a wide scale problem and we are seeing when you see a wide scale problem what you often see is lots of scrambling around with mostly bad solutions. So mass censorship, stupid curation. Governments and politicians are threatening the tech companies the US just tried to do a disinformation board I mean you just see all this sort of bad solutions because nobody knows what to do in my opinion Okay, that’s teeing up Can Elon Musk walk into this situation and save civilization? So that’s part one now part two Elon Musk now, obviously I’m kind of a fanboy More than obviously, I suppose. And I follow what he’s doing because it’s a lot of fun. I mean rockets are cool. Teslas are cool. Tesla just got approved or they just filed a company filing in Thailand. So that’s become possible, which I’m super excited about. But when I look back at what he’s done, I’m more and more convinced he’s probably a genius because he has a history now multiple at least several times, of identifying sweeping problems that affect almost all of humanity that nobody can figure out within this churning confusing situation. He seems to be able to put his finger on a key technology that solves it all. And the first time he did this, like let’s call it the energy problem, right? This would be like the social media civilization problem. It’s a sweeping problem. Energy is a massive problem. It’s oil, it’s carbon emissions, it’s climate change, it’s nuclear power, it’s pipelines from Russia to Germany, it’s geopolitics, it’s wars. I mean, World War II, you could argue that had a lot to do with the West cutting off oil flows to Japan. And suddenly Japan is heavily dependent on imported oil. So I mean, you can see this is just a sweeping problem that cuts across everything. It’s, you know, it’s part of everything. Okay. What was his solution to this? His solution, which is pretty convincing is the solution to this problem is the giant fusion reactor that’s up in the sky every day. Like, that’s the source of all the energy anyways. I mean, where do you think all the energy gets stuck into oil? and coal, well that all started with the sun. It’s the only source of energy in the galaxy is the sun. It’s overhead every single day. If we can capture that energy and find a way to use it effectively and efficiently, all these other issues go away. Well, it’s not like people haven’t thought of that. They just couldn’t make it happen because at the center of that is a very difficult technology problem. How do you capture it? How do you store it? How do you transmit it? How do you make things run on it? Hence, Tesla. I mean, that’s what they’re doing. The solar panels are getting better. The cars are getting more efficient. The batteries are getting better. He’s putting charging stations everywhere. And, you know, he talks, and this is, you know, 15 years on, it started out as a crazy idea that, you know, but he could kind of, I guess, see into the future and say, look, the physics here works. It’s a long path, but if we walk the path, eventually, it’ll work. It is a viable solution. And so he was talking a week or two ago. And he uses the same factoids all the time. And he basically said something to the effect of, you can put solar panels on a fairly small section of Utah and take care of all the energy needs of the United States. It’ll work. And it’s getting there. So you think, OK, so if he solves the Tesla problem, the energy problem, the solar panel problem, which is all tech. doesn’t all of this other stuff go away? Maybe. You know? And you think, wow, that’s kind of, if that works, it’s unbelievable, it changes everything. So you think, okay, this guy’s really smart. You get rid of the combustion engines. You get rid of all of it. And you just capture energy from the sun and that’s life. Okay. So you look at that once and you say, okay, this guy’s really smart. And then he does it again. where the argument is the Earth basically exists within a shooting gallery. You have the solar system, the Earth, you look at any planet in our solar system and it’s got pock marks all over it because outside of the solar system there’s a ring of asteroids and on a regular basis, gravity pulls them in and they go hurtling through our solar system and they hit the planets on a regular basis. I mean, we exist within a shooting gallery. And when they hit a planet, and if it’s big enough, all life dies. And extinction level events, we’ve had four to five of them on Earth. You look at the moon, you see pock marks. So the problem is, look, we are gonna go extinct. There’s no way around it. One of those things is gonna hit, that’s it, game over. It’s inevitable. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen in a thousand years, but it’s gonna happen. And it’s happened multiple times. Okay, so what’s the solution to that problem? Well, we’ve got to get human beings and society on more than one planet. Because the chances of us getting hit on both planets is dramatically less than getting hit on one, right? That’s how humanity survives. Okay, there’s your solution. At the center of that solution is another technology problem. What’s the technology problem that solves all of that? You’ve got to get the cost ton of moving things from the surface to orbit you’ve got to drop that cost. It’s the only thing, right? If you can do that then suddenly moving to other planets and having colonies becomes doable. But if you can’t drop the cost per ton doesn’t work. That’s the problem. So there’s SpaceX and that’s why the rockets have to be reusable. and that’s why he’s building Raptor engines, and that’s why he’s firing rockets with a fuel source that’s never been done before. He’s all about dropping the per cost ton, and if you can get it down to a certain number, suddenly it all becomes doable. Right, so that’s twice. He keeps doing this. You could argue that the boring company is another example of that. Traffic gets better, worse and worse and worse, more people in cities, every year traffic gets worse. What’s the solution? Stop putting all the cars on the surface and put them at multiple levels under the surface. That solves that problem as well, actually. So I mean, he keeps doing the same pattern. So when he jumped in on Twitter and social media, he started to use the same language. That this is a much bigger problem than we think. The, what I just sort of said in part one, that is a sweeping societal problem. that affects civilization, public discourse, how we relate to each other, news, it affects everything. It this the ideas of information flows and broken information and communication systems, misinformation, growing distrust, the rise of censorship. You could argue that this is civilization breaking down. You know, people are at each other’s throats. And so he has some interesting quotes on this. One of them he said is, you basically can’t have a functioning democracy without free speech. What you need, and this is his language, you need a public square that is maximally trusted and maximally inclusive. I mean, he’s using an engineer’s language that we need to maximize certain variables for this to work. And the variables that have to work are maximum trust. Everyone has to trust the information and trust. each other in our discussions and it needs to be maximally inclusive. Everyone needs to be in there. That’s how you get a healthy public discourse and information flows and so on. I think he’s still figuring out his thinking, but it strikes me that he has put his finger on another major problem that’s society-wide. Okay, so what’s his solution? There’s a few public squares that are out there, social media, Twitter, Facebook, you could argue Instagram a little bit, WeChat in China. There’s a handful of these public squares that are all broken. We need to buy one and fix it. And fixing it means solving the key technological problem at the center of Twitter and at the center of Facebook, which is how do you do curation at scale? How do you do that editorial function at scale in a way that works? So it’s the same pattern. Here’s the problem, here’s the step forward. At the center of solving all of this, there’s one technological challenge that nobody has figured out. I’ll figure it out. I’ll get your rockets cheap. I’ll get your solar cars working cheap. I’ll get the public square functioning. That’s all tech. And that’s what he’s good at. I don’t think he’s figured out how to do it, but he said two things right off the bat. by Twitter and he’s gonna do two things. He’s gonna eliminate the bots. How do you eliminate the bots? Everyone has to identify themselves. Everyone’s gotta put their passports. So everyone on Twitter is now a real person. That should get rid of a lot of the bot problem. That’s what they do in China, by the way. You can still game the system and fake stuff, but it definitely makes it, it’ll take care of a lot of that problem. The other one is you open source the algorithm. so that people start to trust what you’re doing. Okay, I can see that this one is trending and it’s not someone manipulating it behind the scenes, which Twitter is absolutely doing. You know, there’s evidence all over the place that they are tweaking the algorithm and inserting their own views and, I mean, shadow banning people. You’re always gonna have that distrust. You’ve gotta open source it so people can see it. So that’s kind of his first approach, which makes, I mean, he’s approaching this like an engineer. Like he’s really coming at this, not as a policy person, not as an ideal, he’s coming at, he’s not even coming at it as an ideologue, like I’m left, you’re right, whatever. He’s coming at it like an engineer fixing a rocket. So that’s kind of how I’ve viewed this. It’s been fascinating to watch. And I think, so that’s kind of why I titled this podcast. Can he fix Twitter? Can it be done? Which is the technology problem. And if he does that, does that save civilization? Which as I said is hyperbole, but at the same point it’s not. I mean you can’t deny that something is fundamentally wrong in the last 10 years, everywhere. I was in Poland giving a talk and I was hanging out with some students and these were some MBAs and I asked them, and I’ve been kind of said like late at night because you all go drinking in Poland. It’s like, hey give your talk. Let’s go get drunk. And I was asking people like, are people in Poland yelling at each other? He’s like, oh yeah, people are really angry at each other. And everywhere I go I ask the same question, are you angry at each other? Everywhere you go. People are at each other’s throats. There’s something broken here. Now, I think the Twitter question, now interesting thing is one of the major owners of Twitter when this all got kicked off was my old boss, Saudi Prince Al Waleed. He owned like 5% of Twitter. He bought that 10 years ago. And you want to talk about frustrated investors. It was ridiculous, because Elon Musk says, I’m going to buy Twitter, and I’m going to pay $44 billion, or whatever it was. And the management’s like, no, we’re not going to do it. It’s ridiculous. The shareholders absolutely want someone to buy Twitter, because the share price of Twitter is exactly the same as it went public 10 years ago. What social media company hasn’t risen in value? over the greatest tech bull market we’ve ever seen. Yet Twitter shareholders are at the same price as like 2012. So these shareholders are all frustrated. He wants to buy it, management says no, no, no, they argue. And no one else is gonna buy it. I mean, it’s not like there’s other bidders. He’s the only guy who wants, no one else wants this thing. They don’t. It’s too big, it’s a big purchase, none of the private equity people want, nobody wants it. So. It was pretty obvious, like he was the only suitor. Anyway, so this sort of came up and my old boss tweeted out, Kingdom Holding Company, he turns down the offer. And everyone said, oh, the Saudi prince said no. He didn’t say no, he said it was too low. Any offer you take to that guy, I’d like to buy that cup of coffee for $5. Price is too low. Price is too low is gonna be the first thing out of his mouth no matter what. It’s just a negotiation tactic. And I think what he wanted, and I kind of called this early on, I said, I think he wants to be part of the deal. He wants to be with Elon. He wants to own Twitter and have Elon Musk run it. That’s a home run. So he doesn’t want to get bought out. And sure enough, and I kind of tweeted this out, I’m like, you know, these two guys got to talk because they’d actually really like each other. Alwaleed is really smart and he’s hyper rational. He would love to be partners with that guy, in my opinion. And sure enough, that came out a couple weeks later. They talked on the phone, and him and some other investors are now part of the deal, so he doesn’t have to write his big a check. That’s a great deal for the shareholders. Anyways, I thought that was kind of funny that watching my old boss sort of get involved in this. It was pretty easy to predict what he would do. He’s owned media companies in the United States for a long time. News Corp, he was the biggest owner of News Corp for like 20 years. So he’s been all over that stuff. Anyways, it’s been kind of fun. The last event that’s happened in this is Elon Musk has sort of paused the deal because he said we need to know how many bots are actually on Twitter. Because Twitter says it’s only 5% of users. And they’ve put this in their SEC filings. and they won’t show how they’re getting the numbers. And there is a lot, there is a good argument that that is not true. And that means you filed something with the SEC that is not true, which is a big deal. That’s legal, right? And Elon Musk sort of popped in and said, we’re pausing this until we get a clear estimate of the bot count. And everyone sort of thought, oh, he’s negotiating for a better price. I think that’s probably a little, I think that’s true. I don’t think that’s number one on his list. I think number one on his list, which he’s sort of hinted at, his goal is buy Twitter and fix it versus build my own social media company. That’s plan B. That only works if Twitter is not so broken that it can’t be fixed. I think that’s the question he’s trying to answer. Is this company too broken for me to fix? Because if it is, then I think he goes to plan B, which is I’m gonna build my own. And I think that’s what he’s doing, is trying to get a read on, you know, what if I buy this thing for a huge amount of money and it’s so broken, it’s not fixable. So hence, you know, the topic for today is, can he fix Twitter and save civilization, or is he gonna build his own social media company instead? I think it’s one of those two paths. And that’s pretty much what he’s done with Tesla and his past companies. Okay, that’s kind of me just talking for today. So this is a bit high level today, but apart from me just ranting about current events, I think the ideas there are important. I think this idea of information flows is incredibly important. I think this idea of the local editorial function, which has always been critical. as it has gone from local towns, local newspapers, local churches, local schools up to these digital companies is a major event. And the fact that it’s broken at this high level is wreaking havoc. Someone’s got to fix that problem. Or you got to push that decision making back down to the local level. Right? I would be happy. Not happy. I would accept if Indonesia passed a rule and said all curation on Facebook, all the algorithms have to be controlled by our local schools and local newspapers in Jakarta. Because then at least you’d know who’s doing it. And oh, it’s the local newspaper editor is the one. As opposed to we don’t know who’s doing it, we don’t know where they are in the world, it seems to be nonsensical. Like just pushing those decisions back down to the local level with a company you trust somewhat. would be better than the current situation. But I still think it’s a fundamental technical problem. How do you do curation at scale? Anyways, that’s kind of, I guess, the content for today. Sort of high level. As for me, it’s been a pretty, I had a really great week, like shockingly great. We had this event at Sasson Business School. This is Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, the business school Sasson. And there was sort of a annual event where we go out on a boat. on the river, all the professors, the deans, and tons of students as well, which is fun. And you take the boat up the Chalpraya, which takes you by the temples and the palace, and they light them up, and they’re really spectacular. And the boat’s a party boat, right? There’s dinner and there’s drinks, and there’s a band on the bow of the boat. And you know, the students are all, you know, they’re with their families, a lot of them, because a lot of them are executives, and things like that. And it was just… Like amazing, like it was really amazing. I just kind of sat there for a while and I used to live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and you know, I would do the finance thing and every Monday morning I’d have to go out to LaGuardia and get on a plane and fly to St. Louis or somewhere and back on Thursday. And that was just life. And now somehow I’ve ended up on a boat in Bangkok next to the temples and it’s just, it’s shocking. Like one. It’s shocking how this all turned out. And two, it’s shocking how great it is. Like it’s such a better life on every dimension. That I kind of stumbled into something great. So yeah, anyways, it’s been, I’ve been thinking about it for the last day or so. If you ever come to Bangkok, Thailand, you got to do the river thing. Do the river boat, dinner, cruise. It’s just phenomenal. And this is in a country where there’s kind of a long list of phenomenal things to do. It’s not like there’s two or three, there’s like 20 of them. But in that 20, definitely do that one. That’s a recommendation. Okay, that is it for me. I hope everyone is doing well. I hope your lives are all back to normal and I will talk to you next week. Bye bye.
I write, speak and consult about how to win (and not lose) in digital strategy and transformation.
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