The Elon Musk era begins at Twitter
And what a start it has been
Thanks for all your support, especially to our friends at Armory Square Ventures! Sree’s newsletter is produced with Zach Peterson (@zachprague), with a tech tip from Robert S. Anthony (@newyorkbob). Cartoon by Adam Zyglis.
🗞 @Sree’s Sunday #NYTReadalong: Sunday mornings, 8:30-10 am ET, we read a print newspaper out loud on our Readalong video show, as we have almost seven years now. Usually, it’s the NYT, but we’ve done the Chicago Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post and more. Watch two years of our archives here. The Readalong is sponsored by Muck Rack. Interested in sponsorship opportunities? Email email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
📺 My Digimentors team is working with companies and nonprofits around the world to create virtual and hybrid events. We’ve worked on events for 50 people and 100,000. See our updated brochure. Please talk to us if you need events help or social media consulting (no project too small or too big): email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
ELON MUSK OWNS AND RUNS TWITTER, and he shared a ridiculous conspiracy theory about the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband within his first 48 hours at the helm. He deleted the tweet shortly after (much to the dismay of his rightwing fanbase), but this episode may be all we need to know about how his little vanity project will play out. It’s worth exploring the near-term future of the world’s most important social media platform (other platforms are bigger, but none have the potential for causing as much havoc as Twitter does).
The easy analysis is that, if he does turn Twitter into a “free speech” platform — this is just code for allowing rampant abuse, racism, and conspiracy theories to flourish unfettered — the platform will die under the weight of advertiser exits.
Nilay Patel (@reckless) has an excellent piece at The Verge that gets to the heart of Twitter’s myriad problems — problems that Musk clearly does not understand, and clearly does not know how to fix.
Twitter is a disaster clown car company that is successful despite itself, and there is no possible way to grow users and revenue without making a series of enormous compromises that will ultimately destroy your reputation and possibly cause grievous damage to your other companies.
I say this with utter confidence because the problems with Twitter are not engineering problems. They are political problems. Twitter, the company, makes very little interesting technology; the tech stack is not the valuable asset. The asset is the user base: hopelessly addicted politicians, reporters, celebrities, and other people who should know better but keep posting anyway. You! You, Elon Musk, are addicted to Twitter. You’re the asset. You just bought yourself for $44 billion dollars.
It’s crucial to understand these two things. Twitter is far more influential than its revenue suggests, and its fundamental flaws have nothing to do with software engineering. The company could deploy the most robust AI in existence tomorrow, and we’d wake up every subsequent morning with the same Twitter. The political problems Nilay gets at are, at their apex, very fundamental questions about what people want and what incentivizes them to behave a certain way. These are questions with no firm answers — philosophers have been trying to figure them out for thousands of years, and have yet to answer them. As smart as they are, no MIT- or Stanford-educated machine learning expert will get any closer.
This is the fundamental challenge for Musk. He can cater and cave to his nihilist, edgelord fanboys on the platform, but all that will do is pollute Twitter even more than it already is. Given that he overpaid by several billion(!) dollars, he needs to make that money up somewhere — to the tune of an additional $1 billion in revenue annually by some accounts. The only way that happens is if brands feel safe to spend, and the only way they will feel safe to spend on Twitter ads is if there are enough eyes on Twitter to make it worth it.
The other side of this is about safety and security in the starkest terms. Musk has been more than willing to share conspiracy theories, Vladimir Putin talking points about the Russian invasion(s) of Ukraine, and worse. His Twitter purchase is debt-based and in order to come close to actually paying for this, Tesla and SpaceX both need to be money-making machines for a long time — which means keeping tenuous relationships with problematic governments (see: the Chinese Communist Party) friendly at worst.
Does this mean turning over account info, identities, and direct messages to hostile forces? It may come to that, and the fact that it even needs to be considered as a consequence should give pause to even the most hardened of Twitter optimist.
Finally, I love Twitter. I do. It can be an awful, awful place, but it can also be illuminating. Katie Notopoulos speaks to my heart in this regard:
For now, I’m staying. As I wrote about Musk’s purchase when it was first announced earlier this year:
But I won't be leaving, as I've not left Facebook. I want to stay and fight from the inside. For now. Here's what I wrote about FB last year: "It’s a utility. We don’t boycott our local power company when it screws up - we force it to get better, more useful and safer for everyone."
A word from Armory Square Ventures
With this year's Nobel Prize in literature to French author Annie Ernaux and the Booker win for Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka, is world literature peeking up at the sun?
We remind fans of this newsletter that the deadline to apply to the Armory Square Prize for South Asian Literature in Translation is December 31, 2022. Take a look at our website for eligibility guidelines and FAQs.
The prize aims to cultivate a new generation of literary translators working with South Asian languages and is an effort to remedy disparities in literary translation worldwide by supporting compelling storytellers from the Indian Subcontinent. Words Without Borders recently profiled the initiative.
The new prize will be open to translators of literature written by a South Asian author in a language other than English. Any book-length work of narrative prose, fiction, or nonfiction, by a South Asian author (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives or the diaspora) will be eligible.
The jury brings together award-winning specialists in South Asian and non-South Asian literary translation. It will first and foremost consider the quality of the translation, paying particular attention to the creative and artful solutions that the translator has used to address the translation challenges posed by the work. The jury will also consider the significance of the original work and its author, and the extent to which the language and author are underrepresented in English.
Until next time,
The ASV team
Tech Tip: Budget-Friendly Tech Arrives in Time for Holidays
By Robert S. Anthony
Each week, veteran tech journalist Bob Anthony shares a tech tip you don’t want to miss. Follow him @newyorkbob.
While Halloween is the holiday of frights and fears, it often doesn’t hold an illuminated pumpkin to the screams and yells generated when post-holiday charge card bills arrive in January. If you want to keep the hair-raising moments down this winter, there are some new budget-conscious tech gift options that may help.
When a giant Oral-B iO Series 9 electric toothbrush appeared at the 2020 CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, it brought smiles to many attendees—until they spotted the price: $300. For 2022, however, Oral-B has introduced two less expensive models which maintain the core features of its sophisticated flagship unit, but without some bells and whistles.
The new $100 Oral-B iO Series 4 and $120 iO Series 5 toothbrushes offer pressure sensor lights which glow green when users apply the right pressure to their teeth and connect with a free mobile app which offers brushing tips and other oral health assistance. The iO Series 5 uses artificial intelligence to assess how well users are brushing the various regions of their mouths.
However the new units, and the $80 iO Series 3, which doesn’t connect to an app, lack the electronic message displays used on more expensive Oral-B iO models and have simpler controls. All iO Series toothbrushes have round, oscillating brushes and charging bases.
Epson’s “supertank” printers are popular among students and home office workers because they have deep ink reservoirs that can be refilled with inexpensive bottled ink and don’t depend on expensive ink cartridges.
Epson’s newest supertank, the EcoTank ET-2400 All-in-One, is also its least expensive at $249 (currently on sale at Target for $180). Like other EcoTanks, it comes with two years of ink (based on 125 prints per month) in the box, which makes it more cost effective than some $50 inkjet printers that use ink cartridges.
For example, HP’s DeskJet 2734e inkjet printer (currently on sale for $50) uses HP’s #67XL black ($26) and tricolor ($27) ink cartridges, which yield 240 and 200 printouts respectively. However, the Epson EcoTank ET-2400 (sold exclusively at Walmart and Target) comes with 3,000 pages worth of ink and refills with $14 black, cyan, magenta and yellow ink bottles.
Unlike more expensive EcoTanks, the ET-2400 doesn’t have a front electronic display or memory card slots and doesn’t offer two-sided printing. However, it does have a scanner, connects to Wi-Fi networks and can be controlled with the free Epson Smart Panel mobile app.
Thanks to tight consumer budgets, retailers may be quicker to offer “Black Friday” deals this winter—so keep your eyes open.