The lone mollusc

Well, it has been fun watching the goings on with Twitter and with the Lone Mollusc getting all the ego stroking by always being in the news because of it. I’m sure he revels in it and, to him, it will be worth all the mild inconvenience and all the money he will lose on the venture. His ego-shell will be so amazingly polished and shiny.

But one thing I am seeing talked about in social media but not the media, though I could just be following the wrong media channels, is where the disconnect is and why a Lone Mollusc is not enough to keep a social media company afloat.

Ignoring the accusations of a serious lack of impulse control and related ego issues, and ignoring his bombastic managment style (see first clause in this sentence), the problem is that he thinks Twitter is a software and server company. He has said as much. But it isn’t. To call Twitter a software and server company is to call Tesla a road maintenace firm. Well, a gradual road erosion firm, but you get the idea.

His previous ventures built machines, admittedly high tech machines, but when problems arise with machines, they can usually be fixed by diagnosing the problem and improving the technology. Since he controlled the actual product in those cases, he could throw his weight around, repeatedly inconvenience for his customers, and get away with it as long as people wanted what he was selling. And those other ventures do make useful things and alluring things.

But social media doesn’t work like that. The product in social media is not the software and the server network. It is the interactions between its users. You could say it is a vehicle for social interaction, but given we are talking about the owner of Tesla here, it might be better to say it is the transportation infrastructure that support the exchange of social interactions, whether they be true social interactions or corporations and bots pretending to be living members of the body politic.

He can’t improve the product that Twitter offers because the only control he has over it is trying to facilitate and impede the flows of selected social interactions over the infrastructure he owns. This is not an ability to be lightly dismissed. It gives him a great deal of power in trying to manipulate, if not control, social discourse.

But, at the same time, that ability to influence discourse does not in any way directly map to the ability to generate any form of revenue from the same. What made Twitter powerful was it was a public forum that, admittedly, had a certain amount of least common denominator moderation. That moderation appealed to corporate interests who could more easily steer away from controversy and buy advertising space in a reasonably safe forum. He clearly understands the “media” part of it, but not the “social” part.

Making people feel welcome and at least reaonably safe (there will always be loonies and griefers who will try to ruin things) is what will bring people in a place, real or virtual. In this sort of social network, neither is really amenable to tech solutions. But no meaningful form of safety will be found under an autocratic ruler who changes the rules on a whim.

Our Lone Mollusc will remain alone because, simply, he cannot control what Twitter was, and may still be and continue to be. He can only control one of the roads that people choose to drive their online social interactions on. If he chooses not to censor certain extreme viewpoints because they align with his own, while punishing those who disagree with him, or even make the entire thing a forum for his own views, all he is doing is something akin strewing used roofing nails, broken glass, and mesquite thorns all over his nice, shiny road and then wondering why people don’t want to drive on it anymore.

After all, there is a slightly slower back road right over there that isn’t all that busy, has really nice scenery, and is just plain a nicer drive, even if it makes it a little more involved to reach your destination.