Elon Musk has wanted to build X.com into a super app for a very long time. As described by Walter Isaacson, who is writing a Musk biography, when Musk launched the online bank X.com in 1999, his original concept was to turn the website into a “one-stop everything-store for all financial needs.” That company would eventually be folded into what we now know as PayPal, where Musk tried (and failed) to bring back the X name.
In 2023, X.com is back, intended as a replacement for Twitter with an even grander mission. “In the months to come, we will add comprehensive communications and the ability to conduct your entire financial world,” Musk wrote on the social network he now owns. “The Twitter name does not make sense in that context, so we must bid adieu to the bird.”
What does that mean in practice? Newly installed CEO Linda Yaccarino described a bold and vague vision for the app that’s far beyond the microblogging platform that once felt like the pulse of the internet. “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities,” Yaccarino wrote. “Powered by AI, X will connect us all in ways we’re just beginning to imagine.”
Musk’s description of where Twitter is heading was even simpler. His goal is to “transform” the social network into X, “the everything app.”
Sure, that jargon all sounds like something Kendall Roy might say on Succession. But it’s also grounded in some amount of reality; apps like Musk’s still-fictional version of X do exist. Even before he officially took over the company, Musk was talking about turning Twitter into something like WeChat, the near-ubiquitous app in China that offers a bunch of services on top of social media. Many of Twitter’s product moves under Musk’s ownership have been steps in that direction, and there are hints that more are in the works.
It’s easy to take this all as a joke. The jargon. The hurried announcement. The “er” getting left on the company’s sign because it apparently didn’t have a permit for the crane to remove them. But if it’s not a joke, it could be the start of something much bigger. Or possibly just a much bigger, splashier, stranger downfall for Twitter.
What could X be?
A “super app” like WeChat
In May 2022, shortly after Musk had put his deal for Twitter “on hold,” he discussed his admiration for WeChat on the All-In Podcast. (One of the hosts of the podcast, David Sacks, worked with Musk at PayPal.)
“For those that have used WeChat, I think that WeChat’s actually a good model,” Musk said. “If you’re in China, you kind of live on WeChat. It does everything. It’s sort of like Twitter plus PayPal plus a whole bunch of other things all rolled into one with actually a great interface. It’s really an excellent app. We don’t have anything like that outside of China.”
Those features include mini-apps made by developers, opening up WeChat’s capabilities significantly. And X itself is already experimenting with letting verified organizations (which pay to be verified) post job listings.
Musk has also been open about his vision for making X a place where money flows. At his first meeting with company employees after officially taking ownership of Twitter, for example, Musk said there was a “transformative opportunity in payments.”
“From an information standpoint, not a huge difference between, say, just sending a direct message and sending a payment,” he said. “They are basically the same thing. In principle, you can use a direct messaging stack for payments. And so that’s definitely a direction we’re going to go in, enabling people on Twitter to be able to send money anywhere in the world instantly and in real time.” Later, he described some ideas that sounded an awful lot like making Twitter a bank.
X doesn’t just want to handle payments for its users; it wants to pay them for their work making content for the platform, too. Some who subscribed to the product formerly known as Twitter Blue were notified in mid-July that they would be getting a portion of Twitter’s ad revenue — an initiative Musk first announced in February. Many said they received thousands of dollars. Musk said on July 22nd that the company would soon share revenue for ads on profile pages, too, which he claims will “approximately” double payouts.
Musk isn’t the only tech leader to see the potential opportunity of a super app in the US. Instagram has shopping, Meta Pay lets you send money over Messenger, TikTok is reportedly about to launch an e-commerce business, and Snapchat made a run at offering apps within its app before eventually dropping them, just to name a few examples of apps trying to expand beyond their core social media focus.
The utility of X / Twitter as a super app does make some sense. It would be handy to have one single app in the US where you could read about anything going on in the world, message your friends to hang out, get some money from the bank, book a reservation at a restaurant, and then hail a car to get back home. (I’m sure Musk would want it to be a Tesla robotaxi!)
But a WeChat-style super app might not be possible for X. Regulators are keeping a much closer eye on social media and technology companies than they used to, so they might step in to prevent any one app from owning too much of your experience on the internet. And it might just be hard to get people to switch over to X for things like grocery shopping or banking because there are a lot of popular incumbents at this point.
How about the social stuff?
Even if the super app idea is ultimately a bit nebulous at the moment, we can already see that Musk is trying to turn Twitter into a supersize social app. What might that look like?
A social network
Even if the bird iconography is going away, as far as I can tell, X.com will still be a social media platform at its heart. It seems like you’ll still be able to scroll through posts (formerly tweets, now, according to Musk, “x’s”), see conversations, look at photos and videos in your feed, and DM other users. Well, DMs won’t be quite the same, thanks to...
A subscription service
Many of Twitter’s best features are behind the Twitter Blue subscription, including a verification checkmark, editing posts, fewer ads, higher rankings in conversations and search, longer tweets (I’ll talk more about that), longer videos (and that), and even getting a cut of the company’s ad revenue (and that). There are also some “features” that are exclusive to Blue subscribers as well, including unlimited direct messages and, at least earlier in July, the ability to read way more tweets per day than unverified users.
As for the potential new name for the subscription, its X account page is currently named “Blue Subscription,” and its handle is @XBlue. While Musk told one Twitter user he would “consider” the suggestion to switch the name to X Black, it fortunately seems like he was joking when he told another that the new name would just be “Balls.”
A place to read a lot of text
You may have noticed that some posts are absolutely huge now. That’s because, under Musk’s ownership, the company has slowly increased the character count for Blue subscribers from 4,000 to 10,000 to, now, 25,000. (Nonsubscribers are still limited to 280 characters.)
Those expansive character limits might be just the start. Musk recently confirmed that the company is working on a feature that will let users share “very long, complex articles.” “You could publish a book if you want,” Musk said.
A place to watch video
Now that Blue subscribers can upload videos that are two hours long (up from one hour as of December, which was up from 10 minutes previously), you might be able to settle in for entire movies on the social network. If you know where to look, that has been entirely possible: in one instance, I saw somebody reply to a Musk post with a full reupload of Shrek the Third. (Unsurprisingly, it was taken down.) And if you like a video so much you want to save it for later, you’re able to do that — well, if you’re a Blue subscriber.
While all of this stuff about pirated movies is very funny, Musk seems very serious about building out Twitter as a potential YouTube competitor.
A place to host voice rooms with other people
Spaces, the social audio room feature, has stuck around under Musk’s ownership, and I suspect it will continue to be a key part of the app. Musk himself has participated in a lot of Spaces, including a disastrous one to help launch Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign and better ones with car CEOs to announce their switches to Tesla’s North American Charging Standard (NACS) port for electric vehicles. Spaces, to me, make more sense than other aspects of the X plan: posts can be a way to broadcast text to a huge audience, and Spaces let you broadcast audio.
But will it all work?
That’s a lot of things to pack into one app. Although WeChat is a model for that actually being successful, it’s going to be an uphill battle for X.
Even if the app becomes more useful, many have lost trust in the platform for an array of reasons. Verification is now bought, not earned. Musk has supported often-offensive conservative figures like DeSantis and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. And the ads seem to have gotten much worse.
Twitter is also facing some huge competition on its core turf: text-based microblogging. Meta’s new Threads service had a huge launch but is losing a bit of steam. TikTok just added text posts. Federated platforms like Bluesky and Mastodon have growing communities as well.
Musk’s gamble is that users will want a super app to handle everything to do on the internet. I’m not sure that they do; my sense is that people just want a safe place to quip about things like Barbie or the Women’s World Cup. Twitter often doesn’t feel like the best place to do that right now, and I don’t think adding banking is going to change my mind.