The end of Web 2.0
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The end of Web 2.0

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Good morning! People are skeptical of Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover for a slew of reasons, but a key one is what it signals for the future of the internet. If Twitter users leave the platform to protest Musk, they’ll find few alternatives waiting to embrace them. Is this the end of the free and open web? I’m Kate Cox, and after this week I'm ready to spend some time Extremely Offline.

Also, we want to know about the subscription service you can't live without. Are you a Netflix stan, or have you subscribed to a steady supply of toothpaste for years? More at the bottom, but send us an email to let us know.

Twitter's sale spells the end of Web 2.0

Billionaire rocket man Elon Musk’s single-handed Twitter acquisition marks the end of an era not just for Twitter itself, but for an epoch of the internet. The incipient Web3 utopia touted by crypto evangelists is still nowhere near ready for prime time, but the Twitter takeover signals we have nonetheless put a stake in the heart of the Web 2.0 world and are leaving it behind for good.

The first age of the internet was exciting and new, believe it or not.It brought us commerce, it brought us information and, most interestingly, it brought us to each other. On AOL and CompuServe, on message boards and in chat rooms, the first wave of internet users discovered the network’s loftiest purpose: connection.

  • Generations of platforms rose to dominance and became valuable acquisition targets. But in the past 10 years, the pace of platform growth has slowed, with fewer new entrants meaningfully competing for your attention each year thanks to the massive, entrenched positions of incumbents like Meta.
  • And so, the question for Twitter and its soon-to-be lone shareholder now becomes: Has the environment finally become hostile enough to big new things that Twitter refugees will have nowhere else to go, and instead simply give up and stay put?

Social networks have been disrupted before. Twitter is just the latest in a very long line of social media platforms to find itself on the “acquired object” end of a sale. For the most part, those sales have gone very poorly for the platforms in question, although there are a few exceptions.

  • LiveJournal, MySpace, The Facebook, Reddit and Tumblr were the free-wheeling Web 2.0 social platforms of the early 2000s. All of those companies were successful, and all of them were for sale.
  • Scrappy “second fiddle” Reddit reportedly sold to Condé Nast in 2006 for between $10 million and $20 million. LiveJournal sold first to TypePad owner Six Apart in 2005, and then in 2007 to Russian firm SUP. Fox News parent company News Corp bought MySpace for $580 million in a big, splashy 2005 deal. Tumblr was acquired in 2013, when onetime web giant Yahoo bought it for more than $1 billion.
  • Most of those deals were bad news for both the buyers and the platforms. LiveJournal began to hemorrhage users in the years following the SUP acquisition. Telecom titan Verizon purchased Yahoo in 2017 for roughly $4.5 billion in what turned out to be an incredibly ill-advised attempt to combine it with AOL and branch out into internet content services under the Oath brand. Verizon gave up on Tumblr and sold it off to Automattic, parent company of WordPress, in 2019 for an undisclosed sum (reportedly under $10 million).
  • Reddit stands out as the rare success story. Condé Nast spun Reddit back out in 2011, but retained a stake in the company. Reddit went on a major fundraising spree through the 20teens, and is rumored to be seeking an IPO this year at a valuation of at least $15 billion.

Twitter was a lifeboat for users when those early social platforms sank or went bust. The sentiment for some Twitter users post-Elon Musk acquisition news has been: Where can we go next? And the answer is, of course: nowhere.

  • Technically, there are abundant Twitter alternatives, such as all the smaller social networks hosted on Mastodon.
  • Musk himself keeps saying he wants to take Twitter’s algorithm open source, which would in theory allow would-be competitors basically to recreate Twitter from scratch.
  • Unfortunately, that is also unlikely to help. Even if you’ve got code to crib from, spinning up a competing service is hard, and bringing in users is even more challenging thanks to network effects. In short, users stay wherever their friends and contacts — their existing networks — already are, and you have to reach a critical mass of new users before any of their connections will migrate to your platform.
  • We see this most clearly today with the proliferation of right-wing social platforms such as Gettr, Parler and Truth Social. When you get right down to it, most of their highest-profile users — with a few key exceptions — are still hanging out on Twitter, where the audience is larger and more responsive and their messages can be amplified (especially to their political opponents).

But Twitter is now one of the last social platforms where you can meet people you don’t know. Admittedly, we can all think of people and messages we’ve seen on Twitter we wish we hadn’t encountered, but the openness has wide-ranging benefits too. The changes Musk wants to make to Twitter’s content moderation in the name of “free speech” will likely increase toxicity for users of color, women, LGBTQ+ users and members of other marginalized groups who are frequently targeted by hateful speech and harassment mobs on the platform, and many of those users will either bail or be forced off of the service.

If the Zuckerbergs of the world get their way, the next great forum will be in the metaverse. And maybe that day will come: We’ll all experience the post-internet through our sunglasses or the chips in our heads, the phones once in our pockets long since left in the dirt. But there’s a chasm between now and then, and jilted Twitter users won’t have an easy time finding a way to bridge it.

People are talking

Infosys' Nandan Nilekani has a massive goal to create an open e-commerce system in India:

  • "We owe it to the millions of small sellers to show an easy way to participate in the new high-growth area of digital commerce."

A dozen Senate Democrats want Pete Buttigieg to come up with EV rules:

  • "We lag behind in shaping a regulatory framework that will foster this innovation.”

Thierry Breton said Elon Musk will need to play by the EU’s social media rules:

  • “I don’t care what he’s doing outside of Europe. You want to enter into Europe? These are our rules.”


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Making moves

It's earnings day at Twitter. This could be one of its last earnings reports given Elon Musk's wishes to take the company private, and Twitter doesn't plan to hold a corresponding call.

Rob Enslin is leaving Google Cloud for UiPath as its co-CEO.

Doug Holtzman is Mixhalo’s new head of Sports. He was previously the VP of Business Development at Sportsdigita.

Christine Cuoco joined Rho as head of Marketing. She last worked on brand and content marketing at LinkedIn.

Austin Bonner is replacing William Davenport at the FCC as Commissioner Geoffrey Starks’ chief of staff and senior legal adviser.

In other news

Meta’s revenue growth was super slow this quarter. In fact, its revenue growth was the slowest since its IPO, but its user base grew.

Bitcoin is now legal tender in the Central African Republic, becoming the second country after El Salvador to accept crypto as an official currency.

PayPal is leaving San Francisco. The San Jose-headquartered company is closing its San Francisco office, where its Xoom business unit works, and affected employees can either work virtually or at the San Jose office.

CNN+ couldn’t even make it to its closing date.It’ll end two days before it was scheduled to, closing on April 28 instead of April 30.

The UK is coming for Netflix. It's proposing new TV laws that would force video services to address content considered harmful and give communications regulator Ofcom the power to enforce those rules.

Apple lets you fix your own phones now. The company’s Self Service Repair Program finally launched with over 200 parts and tools to fix a few phone models.

WhatsApp wants its peer-to-peer payments to work. The platform is introducing cashback rewards in India, sources told Reuters.

Twitch is thinking about creator pay changesthat would give streamers incentives to run ads and cut down on the amount of money the platform gives them.

Elon Musk can’t end his settlement agreement with the SEC. Musk argued that his deal to vet tweets violated his free speech, but a federal judge didn’t agree.

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