X Is a Step Towards a More User-Focused Internet

22 Jul 2023 - Jack Hullis

Thanks to poor communications typical of a Musk company, Twitter’s transition towards X has been surrounded by controversy and confusion. The decision to move previously free features behind a Twitter Blue subscription is unconventional; however, it might be just the thing that internet users need right now.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch

With Twitter 1.0, advertisers were the customer, accounting for 90% of revenue pre-takeover (source). Whilst this may seem beneficial for users who are looking to use the platform for free, reality shows that media companies having advertisers as customers is actually responsible for some of the internet’s worst characteristics. This is because for advertising dependant companies to increase revenue, they must optimise their content for engagement. Engagement means more user minutes and more opportunities for adverts to be viewed.

Attention grabbing techniques such as outrage baiting, sensationalism, and clickbait all work to maximise engagement, and so are good for advertisers. Conversely, they also all work to make the user experience worse. Maximising engagement can lead to addiction in users, which can lead to mental health issues such as decreased attention and isolation. These are serious issues which should not be overlooked, especially considering the rise in mental health illnesses in the young people who are targeted by these services.

Enter Mr.Musk

X tackles this by making users pay for the product. This means that users are now X’s customer, allowing them to focus on improving the user experience rather than optimising for advertiser revenue.

New features such as encrypted DM’s, voice and video chat, and improved video support all contribute to improving user experience without making users the commodity. These features wouldn’t have been added if advertisers were still the customer as they don’t work to directly improve advertising revenue.

X’s new aim to reduce regretted user minutes is also refreshing in an industry where companies are constantly competing for your time and attention. How many times do people open TikTok, only to re-emerge from the app half hour later wondering where all the time went, disappointed in themselves for letting themselves get distracted. If TikTok cared and wanted to fix this problem, they too would have to break away from a reliance on advertising revenue.

X also aims to be more selective in their advertising, increasing demand and allowing X to charge more per impression. The new goal of ensuring advertisements are entertaining should mean that only high quality ads which are relevant and beneficial to the user will be shown. Targeted advertising is good for both advertisers and users, acting less like spam and more like a match making service. The decreased supply and increased demand will also allow X to charge its advertisers more, increasing revenue.

Battle of the bots

X’s subscription model also helps massively in the brewing war against bots. Looking at the gaming industry, it’s common for most free-to-play games to have a high number of cheaters, hackers, and bots. This is because there is no cost to getting banned, as usually the only barrier to entry is creating an account. Paid games see a lower frequency of cheaters due to the higher cost of getting banned. This same rule can be applied to X.

As bots get harder to distinguish thanks to LLM’s, Blue subscriptions act as a simple proof of personhood system. In order to have a verified X account, each account must have a linked payment method as well as the funds necessary. For individuals, this is easy. But for large scale bot networks, this is both incredibly difficult and expensive.

All considered, Twitters transition towards X represents a step away from advertiser dependency and towards a more user-focused internet. It’s new revenue model allows it to prioritise user experience whilst also helping to combat bots and spam on the platform, which is an increasingly difficult problem due to recent AI developments such as ChatGPT.

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