Social media simply “happened” or emerged according to the popular history; in other words, it was unplanned. Where email emphasized lengthy messages, on social media messages became only a sentence or two. Twitter emerged as a dominant platform over time in part because it made this short format easy and accessible.
The rest of its success came mostly from network effects, or a feedback loop where the more people use a resource, the more valuable it is to new users because the information they seek is more likely to be there:
The network effect is a phenomenon whereby increased numbers of people or participants improve the value of a good or service. The internet is an example of the network effect. Initially, there were few users on the internet since it was of little value to anyone outside of the military and some research scientists.
However, as more users gained access to the internet, they produced more content, information, and services. The development and improvement of websites attracted more users to connect and do business with each other. As the internet experienced increases in traffic, it offered more value, leading to a network effect.
These network effects allowed Twitter to become a top-notch resource for citizen journalism and press releases from government, industry, and non-profit organizations worldwide. It also became a kind of social event where people participated in group chats like they had previously used group SMS.
This made Twitter into a force multiplier effect because people could become famous overnight or get their message out via the service:
The effect produced by a capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force, and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment.
This capability added to an organization can be equipment or human. It consists of any functionality that adds synergy to the existing organization allowing it to not just perform better, but better than the sum of its parts. In addition force multipliers for improved individual effectiveness can occur through adding tools, exercising, training, or all together.
What we are mostly interested in, as taxpayers, is how our own societies can improve using force multipliers because it drastically improves our circumstances using any metric. It is possible to go back in history to previous civilizations, but for now it makes sense just to focus on the Western world in general.
From a societal perspective the remarkable improvement in society can be first visualized by the world’s first passenger train.
On September 27, 1825, Locomotion No. 1 became the world’s first steam locomotive to carry passengers on a public line, the Stockton and Darlington Railway, in North East England.
George Stephenson drove the first train. The engine was called Active (later renamed Locomotion). It pulled a train with 450 passengers at a speed of 15 miles an hour.
George also built the first public inter-city railway line in the world to use locomotives, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which opened in 1830.
The effect of this on cities cannot be underestimated: they radically cut travel times, imposed a schedule on the day, and paved the way for other public transportation like underground trains which allowed London to eventually become the most effective city in the world.
An even more astonishing force-multiplier appeared later with the first aircraft .
After a first attempt failed on December 14, the machine was flown four times on December 17, to distances of 120, 175, 200, and 852 feet (36.6, 53.3, 61, and 260 m), respectively.
The 1903 Wright airplane was an extremely strong yet flexible braced biplane structure. Forward of the wings was a twin-surface horizontal elevator, and to the rear was a twin-surface vertical rudder. Wing spars and other long, straight sections of the craft were constructed of spruce, while the wing ribs and other bent or shaped pieces were built of ash. Aerodynamic surfaces were covered with a finely woven muslin cloth.
The flyer was propelled by a four-cylinder gasoline engine of the Wrights’ own design that developed some 12.5 horsepower after the first few seconds of operation. The engine was linked through a chain-drive transmission to twin contrarotating pusher propellers, which it turned at an average speed of 348 rotations per minute.
This invention led America to establish multiple airports around their country resulting in trade and logistics far exceeding that possible with trains. Based on the progress from trains to aircraft, many people thought that the next “frontier” would be space and indeed no less than a moon landing followed in the 1960s.
In the 1960s, however, the West stalled. The momentum of the WW2-era quest for world democracy, human rights, and social welfare systems consumed every other direction. In the remnants of this mess, Elon Musk bought a Dark Organization called Twitter sixty years later.
There are many thoughts on this, but the following are non-academic observations on what transpired to illustrate the topic under discussion.
In particular, Starlink showed Musk the powers of communication as being the equivalent of the older transportation reforms. It seems travel itself can be improved upon by a newer paradigm, since if people can achieve internet connectivity they have almost the same connection as being there in person:
“With performance that far surpasses that of traditional satellite internet, and a global network unbounded by ground infrastructure limitations, Starlink will deliver high speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable,” the site reads.
Musk has received formal approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch 12,000 satellites into orbit and submitted paperwork for another 30,000 in December 2019.
Musk successfully launched his latest batch of 60 satellites into orbit in March. The satellites were put into orbit by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which missed its landing target due to “an early engine shutdown on ascent” that did not affect the satellite launch, the billionaire engineer tweeted on March 18.
At this point Musk had the equipment and the attention of society, but he needed an application to allow two-way communication to elevate his work to force multiplier status. To fulfill that need he bought Twitter in 2022.
A year after Elon Musk bought Twitter because, he said, doing so was “important to the future of civilization,” he’s made the social media service smaller in almost every way. About 13% fewer users signed on each day in September, compared with last October, according to data firm Apptopia. The company employs about 1,500 people, down from 7,500 the day Musk bought it. And a platform that was once a key online gathering place for media professionals, political activists and news junkies is rapidly losing its relevance as a lively source of real-time information and debate.
The main plank of Musk’s plan for Twitter (now called X) was to shift away from advertising and toward paid subscriptions. A new analysis from independent researcher Travis Brown estimates that 950,000 to 1.2 million people now pay for X’s $8 monthly premium service. That means X persuaded less than 1% of users to sign up—and translates to revenue of less than $120 million annually from the company’s subscription service, not including app store fees from Apple Inc. and Google.
This is hardly a replacement for the ad revenue that Twitter relied on in the pre-Musk era—about $4.5 billion in its last full year as a public company. Meanwhile, many of X’s top advertisers, such as Mondelez International, Coca-Cola, IBM and HBO, are spending less than they were before Musk took over, largely because of policies he’s implemented that have made the service more chaotic and unpredictable. Collectively, X’s top five advertisers are spending 67% less on ads than they did before the acquisition, according to data from market intelligence firm Sensor Tower.
Twitter was a Dark Organization before Musk bought it, ridden with US government censorship and propaganda as well as Leftists waging cancel culture on all who refused to endorse their woke SJW ideology, supported by the mostly H-1B and Redditor staff who approvingly removed most conservative accounts.
Fixing Twitter will take a Herculean effort, but making it an effective communications platform again will add value to society and let Musk use it as the “everything app” — micropayments, universal login, chat, sales, and communications — that he has desired after seeing WhatsApp, Discord, and WeChat take over the next generation of social media.
Being classified as a Dark Organization means that the organization was psychologically defensive for which no proven management fix exists today. However, Musk fired roughly 75% of Twitter’s employees while only losing 13% of its users, meaning he drastically reduced the size of the platform.
In addition, he changed the structure of Twitter to resemble SpaceX (in my opinion) more closely, which limits the propensity of the organization to adopt Dark Organizational characteristics again. In other words, he removed the political imperative (influence) of the platform, he reduced the complexity of the platform for easier access by “the street” and he followed this up with increasing transparency by introducing X Spaces, which is obviously a play on the name of SpaceX.
Spaces are public, so anyone can join as a listener, including people who don’t follow you. Listeners can be directly invited into a Space by DMing them a link to the Space, posting out a link, or sharing a link elsewhere.
This means that the force multiplier is now activated propelling (space) communication to a new level. One can even say that the era of mainstream media is numbered and with it, manufactured consent. The media itself is no longer just for the elite, it is now available to anyone wanting to communicate from Kampala to Houston, or anywhere else. This includes citizen journalism and families focusing on their own problems wherever they may be, rather than giving the horn to some idiot politician.
This remarkable new force multiplier will improve the West’s mental state, it will improve societal interaction, and it will reduce conflict anywhere in the world by exposing those that desire the opposite. This could bring about a revolution as profound as transportation or the internet itself.