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Some thoughts on the trajectory of Elon Musk

Naturally prompted by the current Twitter situation, I've come to the point where I just have to write down my thoughts.

I have no doubt that Elon Musk is a genius, both of thought and action. He can formulate visions and execute them. He has two truly epic feats under his belt - starting a viable car company from scratch (the first since the 1930s) and bringing about the next generation of space technology and exploration, after a long, long winter. This is definitely not the work of an "emerald mine heir, just investing his money."

He is however not an infallible genius, which is particularly noticeable in areas outside of his core expertise. And that includes social networks. In some sense, it might be the kind of venture least amiable to an engineering, top-down approach. The product is made of a fickle, unpredictable human mass and there are no good instruments or levers to make it do what you want.

The first thing about the whole Twitter situation which really gave me a pause was the fact that Musk had apparently waived due diligence as a part of the $44B takeover bid. This is completely incomprehensible to me. From an M&A perspective, it's like a story of someone who picks up a skank at a seedy dive bar and proceeds to raw-dog her. Incredibly irresponsible. Are you sure you don't want to use a condom? Things might seem easier in the moment, but the potential for future regret is rather alarming! The rebuke I've heard was that Dorsey had already told him all the important stuff anyway, but that's just not how the process works. For one, the due diligence could have given him a way out of the bid (and boy, wouldn't that turn out to be handy...) It's not guaranteed, but rare indeed is the DD that doesn't uncover some sort of irregularity or dubious representation that could have served as ammo in the lawsuit. Secondly, the DD would have mapped out the exact internal structure, external relations, responsibilities and exposures. Even if (or rather precisely because) the plan was to mow through the ranks, this would have been extremely useful to have. If you're going in with an axe, you should at least have a map of the areas you intend to clear-cut. The whaling system deployed by Musk might have been effective at selecting for a combination of competence, drive and vision alignment (and/or desperation) - but that's not the same as critical institutional knowledge. Twitter is vast and something like 80% of the people who knew what went where and why are gone. The sole irreplaceable value of Twitter is in its existing user network - but this is inextricable from the pulsing, living IT snarl containing the accounts and their connections, which is in turn inextricable from the human apparatus building it and maintaining it. With cars or rockets, as long as you have the tech packages, you can always just bring in new competent engineers to continue the work. But there isn't any objective singular blueprint of Twitter. No single person has the whole picture. It's dubious whether it can even be successfully cold-reset. It's just... why go about it that way? Why not put on the condom?

The second incident was the checkmark fiasco: 1. Blow up the old and opaque verification system 2. Concoct an $8/month pay-to-play scheme 3. Discover why the verification system had been there in the first place 4. Clumsily return to a variant of the old opaque verification system. I'm sure the advertisers were thrilled. How am I not looking at an impulsive, poorly though-out spiteful action here? There are people stuck with GIANT PENIS handles to this day...

The thirds aspect is Musk ostensibly sleeping over at Twitter HQ, wildly coding into the night with the bros. The problem is that either his ethos of "You can't put in less than 80 hours a week and expect a thing to work." is wrong or Tesla and SpaceX are getting the shaft here. And the stock price sure seems to indicate the belief in the latter. More than half of the value gone, YOY, as of the time of this writing. And heaven knows what's happening to Neuralink or the Boring Company. Precisely to the degree that Musk is an irreplaceable genius, the Twitter stunt is coming at the expense of projects he himself considers vital for the survival of human consciousness. What are the priorities here?

The further unmentioned elephant in the room is stimulant abuse and, even worse, the attendant lack of sleep. At this point, it would take a lot to persuade me he isn't up to his gills in some Chinese designer hyper-opti-MegaAdderall regimen, which just appears as both the likeliest cause and result of his recent actions and decisions.

The historical parallel I'm most reminded of is Napoleon. Certainly no rando of middling qualities - but also somebody who, past his initial bout of success and innovation, slumped into the belief in his own brand of unerring radical decisions, with well-known consequences.

So I'm out. Not that it should matter to anyone in any practical terms, but my confidence in Elon Musk's process and vision is gone. At this point, it mostly looks like the driver's seat is occupied by erratic hyperconfidence. I'm not expecting Twitter to disappear any time soon, in fact I still consider it somewhat more likely than not that the company will ultimately stabilize. It's not that any single action had caused irreparable damage - but the series of unforced errors, starting with the bid itself, isn't inspiring any future confidence in me. I will not be getting on that rocket to Mars, thank you very much.

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The apologia for the richest guy who started rich and picked right twice is funny to me, as always. Dude really is the modern day Timothy Dexter.

YOU are smarter than Elon Musk, he just had money and the blind self confidence to parley his way into a leadership position where his staff carefully wrangles him to making correct decisions sometimes. Testimonials from everyone who has ever touched his technical work are universally negative, strip it down and build it again right style shit.

But! That doesn't matter. HIS JOB ISN'T ENGINEERING, he is the fucking CEO. He can hire 99th percentile STEMlords to do STEM stuff, he needs to do CEO stuff.

The place you can say he is actually a genius: He is a fucking sublime marketing machine. He never turns off, he is 25/8 looking for ways to promote himself and his sources of revenue, both directly and indirectly, both positively and negatively.

He managed to fill the Steve Jobs shaped hole in the zeitgeist, and that is enough to make up for 95% of all boneheaded financial decisions.

Testimonials from everyone who has ever touched his technical work are universally negative

This is false. I know those aren't the only quotes ever, so I'd love to see your sources, but when I dig a little deeper the juxtapositions still look like "the retired head of Merlin development defending Musk's technical work" versus "some anonymous guy who claimed to be a SpaceX intern attacking it".

The place you can say he is actually a genius: He is a fucking sublime marketing machine.

The balance is nice, but ironically this is also false. You could say he's merely feigning being a bad public speaker for nerd-credibility, I guess, but look at the outcomes too: it seems like everybody right down to Wesley freaking Crusher (who was the victim of a Two Minute Hate himself not too many years back!) either hates the guy or is at best kinda worried for the guy right now, and so he may have just lost tens of billions of dollars to an acquisition where he only needed to get the marketing right, all because he even couldn't stop shitposting long enough to reassure users and advertisers that he wasn't going to break Twitter outright or turn it into Gab! In the past his marketing didn't always matter, because with a completely technological perspective when there's a conflict between "Neil Armstrong himself says he probably can't do it" and "he did it", "he did it" wins, but with Twitter he's in a social space dominated by Schelling-point/Keynesian-beauty-contest/network-effect dynamics and there he might just be doomed.

Love Elon. He makes 'move fast and break things' work at scale. He has reasonable and level-headed takes on most issues.

The twitter focus is simple. Solving the problem of online discourse and cultural degeneracy is as important (if not more) as sustainability and space colonization.

After the chaos of the mass firings, twitter still works fine and is getting more users than ever. Elon understands the importance of engagement metrics and seems to be monitoring them closely.

There are many possible avenues of monetization once you have the attention of billions of users. Selecting and implementing them as revenue sources in an effective manner as the corporation drowns in debt and bleeds money is just the kind of challenge Elon is made for.

If he integrates crypto effectively, I may even have to make an account myself.

I don't like Elon generally, and the Twitter thing is not a reason, on the contrary.

Wrt Twitter, if he manages to not have a days-long outage, and Google / Apple don't ban Twitter from their stores, I bet he'll be able to make Twitter profitable even with activist groups going after his ad revenue.

advertisers always come crawling back

I think in part because people get distracted. If he survives in the near term and Twitter isn’t terrible, then ad revenue will come back with lower cost.

I think he is easy to underestimate. There many reports of his being able to comprehend and make intelligent decisions about complex engineering subjects. But also he seems to have a clear grasp of fundamentals that somehow seem to get lost to management and the CEO class, like the principles of design, the economy being more related to goods and services than derivatives like money, and the critical importance of manufacturing in producing those goods and services. These are not novel or particularly subtle concepts, but it seems to sometimes take a special mind to ignore the complexities when they are not especially important.

ETA: Of particular interest to this forum: "What do you think of the culture war?"

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1596072934665240576?t=kL5JX4s1cw8G8zH1eZrYmg&s=19

My favorite reply in that thread:

Centrists want things to stay the way they are today. If you're engaging in culture wars, you're right wing. If you're using culture wars to control the lives if others you're far right.

So tell us more about the "center right".

This political binary is the result of thinking in a single-axis political spectrum. I instead map reality to Arnold Kling’s three-axis system of conservatives, libertarians, and liberals. I’ve come to see this as shorthand for the big-tent groups seeking freedoms of security, trade, and expression, respectively, working toward the incompatible utopias of total order, total freedom, or total collectivism. It resembles a binary spectrum for two reasons:

  1. like a Flatlander observing a triangle edge-on, libertarians appear either far right and conservatives center-right, or vice versa, or hidden on the other side of the triangle

  2. libertarians already won the culture war in the 1800’s and lost it in the 1900’s

For those of you who aren't familiar with Arnold Kling's system, his book The Three Languages of Politics

can be downloaded free of charge: https://www.cato.org/three-languages-of-politics

I found it incredibly useful—and am thrilled to see it wedged into a Flatland metaphor, which is the greatest honor a thesis can attain!

It's not guaranteed, but rare indeed is the DD that doesn't uncover some sort of irregularity or dubious representation that could have served as ammo in the lawsuit.

To a material adverse effect standard? No way. Extremely unusual.

The problem is that either his ethos of "You can't put in less than 80 hours a week and expect a thing to work." is wrong or Tesla and SpaceX are getting the shaft here. And the stock price sure seems to indicate the belief in the latter. More than half of the value gone, YOY, as of the time of this writing.

Compared to what? Amazon is down by about 50% YoY. Facebook is down by two thirds. Google is down by a third. And those are companies that mint money today. Their valuation isn't premised just on the hope of future earnings like Tesla's is, so if anything you'd expect their valuations to fare better than Tesla as interest rates rise.

Yep, this comment on Tesla's stock drop was surprisingly ignorant, respect level dropped significantly after reading that.

Still a decent post overall though.

I still admire the man for what he did with Tesla, SpaceX, Starlink and that he even dared to touch problems like Neuralink or the Boring Company.

To me, he seem's like Chaotic Neutral incarnate. After the Twitter deal, I readjusted my expectations and turned up "Chaos" from 4 to 9 and frankly admit to myself: I don't have a clear model of this guy's thinking process. The closest archetype I can shuffled him under is the Trickster, or one who shares amazing gifts but exacts a (often humorous) price.

So what I'm looking at now is how this whole deal will end. From the technical side, I made some predictions in this comment: https://www.themotte.org/post/181/culture-war-roundup-for-the-week/33114?context=8#context

But for the "success of Twitter" side, I can see a few exits, none of them bad in my book:

  • Twitter implodes. Nothing of value was lost. The scene fragments and re-knits itself on a different platform within the next couple of years.

  • Twitter continues as is, except it's not powered by #StayWoke-tshirt-wearing people. Things continue as they are now, except more chaotically, and the fires of the Culture War burn brighter.

  • Twitter succeeds. It becomes a global public square like techno-optimists have dreamed about, and proceeds to seed American/Enlightenment culture far and wide (including Mars).

The more fun-loving side of me sees this whole thing as a battle of wills, where both sides are trying to nudge reality toward their version of reality. Musk firing a bunch of Twitter workers? Good--most of them were in essence deadweight, and I'm not only talking about community event organizers, but also all the engineers building wacky prototypes concocted by unimaginative product managers. Must making jokes while all this play out in slo-mo? Good, at least a bunch of journalists get to earn money for cranking out GPT-3-level outrage stories about Bad Musk. Acquaintances talking about how bad Bad Musk is? Good, I get to get into interesting discussions or at least note which people in my circles outsource their thinking to the media.

This rush to adjustment is absurd.

(1)

"But it looks like Musk is doing a bad job at Twitter." This is usually a reasonable predictor of failure. However, everything Musk succeeds at looks like an absolutely terrible idea until all of the sudden, it's not. So hold your horses.

In the case of Musk, the claim "it looks like he's running company x like a total clown" isn't good evidence that he doesn't actually know how to run company x. It is likely that he would look like in idiot even in the case that Twitter eventually becomes a trillion dollar company. Everything we are seeing is weak evidence of what the future outcome will be. The nature of market inefficiencies is that they are not obvious, else someone would have already exploited it. Finding major market inefficiencies almost requires you to see things in a way that would seem absurd to everyone else.

This is just the beginning. There are so many things that Twitter can become. I don't understand how people are writing him off so easily. How would you expect a world where Twitter is a huge success to look different than it does right now.

Did you think that Musk was going to do things that everyone thinks are totally reasonable, just as everyone expected based on his clear operational excellence a couple of weeks after buying it, it does really well? That was never going to happen.

I would expect a success to look something like "Musk is a total idiot" to "see I told you he was a total idiot" to "OK, it looks good now but it's just a blip on the radar" and eventually "Ya Musk was successful but it's because of his workers not him. Any rich guy could do this" and "did you hear about his fathers emerald mines?".

I don't understand how you are distinguishing a world where Twitter goes bankrupt from a world that it's absurdly successful. The expectation is that everyone would say that he was an idiot. Everyone would say that he has no idea what he's doing, and eventually people would say how it was obvious in retrospect (and had nothing to do with Musk). I don't understand why you would expect Musk to run his business in a way that doesn't seem stupid. Everything he's done for the last 20 years has seemed stupid. Until it wasn't. And people still think that every new thing he does, at those same businesses, is stupid.

Surprise, when people exploit market inefficiencies it looks stupid. If it was obvious sthen omeone would have done it already. Musk has a long history of doing stupid things that are totally reasonable in retrospect.

I don't know if Twitter will succeed or fail. I do think that if Musk does spend a lot of time at Twitter (at the expense of Tesla and SpaceX) he will make a tremendous return. I do think that there is a very large chance that Twitter will eventually make an absurd amount of money and that when it does so it will look nothing like it does today; I think that Twitter the micro blog platform will serve as a launching point for other more profitable businesses.

Things currently look exactly like we would expect a Musk success to look; they also look exactly like we would expect a Musk failure to look. As of yet we don't have sufficient information to determine whether this is a winner or a total flop.

(2)

Twitter is a far more plausible business than either SpaceX and Tesla. Tesla and SpaceX were terrible businesses, the idea of them succeeding is absurd, but we are so used to their success it seems like Twitter is uniquely terrible; the reality is that Twitter operates on far more fertile soil than Tesla/SpaceX. Tesla/SpaceX were pie in the sky companies that were going to fail with near certainty. Conversely, Twitter is a company that should be worth more, it was expected to be worth more, but has failed to live up to its potential. In a vacuum, Twitter is a far more plausible than SpaceX/Tesla.

(3)

There are a lot of claims that Musk is just some luck business guy. This is absurd. The odds that someone would hit gold so often, on companies that seemed certain to fail is incredibly unlikely. His first 2 businesses Zip2 and X.com (X.com acquired paypal and later rebranded as Paypal) might have been luck. He was a smart guy, but there were lots of smart guys making lots of money like that before the dotcom bubble. So it's impressive, sure, but that's it.

However, Musk then picks two companies that were near certain to fail, just terrible ideas, even if they had adequate funding, which they didn't, and turns them into no only functioning businesses, but implausibly large successes. I don't think you appreciate how absurd this is, and how this, in combination with his two software startups, suggests that there is property of Elon Musk that makes a company likely to succeed. It would be improbable that he was so consistently lucky in not only business, but in what were the WORST businesses; these businesses were terrible ideas. You would have to be looking to loose money to touch them. The nearest competitors to both businesses have some of the largest revenues in the world and don't touch either of those markets. The improbability of succeeding at all these things is implausibly improbable.

He had 180 million before tax, and wanted to start a rocket ship company and a car company, despite not having nearly enough capital to make a weak attempt at either.

There hadn't been a mass manufacturing automotive company since the early 1900's. Starting one should have required a ton of capital and time. You might not know this but Tesla has the highest automotive gross margins of any car company not named Ferrari, despite Musk's silly automation and manufacturing ideas being mocked as the whimsical overconfidence of a fool. He was a complete idiot until maybe 2 or 3 years ago, and turns out all those stupid ideas created the highest automotive gross margins and companies are tripping over themselves to incorporate them into their assembly lines. Tesla has higher gross margins than Toyota (the king of not only auto manufacturing* but of all manufacturing*), Mercedes, and BMW, despite the current standard cost of manufacturing electrics cars currently being $10,000 higher than that of ICE vehicles. This is absurdity upon absurdity.

SpaceX is just an exercise in implausibility and improbability. The odds of its failure were a near certainty. It's rivals were rich governments, and defense contractors that make bids on Trillion dollar government projects. It would have been a near certain failure with adequate capital, which it didn't have, not anything close to it. The majority of satellites in space were launched by SpaceX. The overwhelming majority

If he would have gone out and looked for business that were most likely to fail a rocket ship manufacturer and mass production automotive company would have been pretty good attempts. You need to go back in time 20 years and consider how absurd these companies were. They were terrible ideas. Certain failures. They both succeeded beyond any imaginable best case scenario.

I don't care that Musk makes cool rocket ships and cars. I don't care that he's "disruptive". That means nothing. What matters is that he picks businesses with the most infinitesimal improbability of succeeding. It wouldn't matter if he had founded a company that makes industrial solvents conditional on its success being so incredibly improbable. T

he salient feature of Musk isn't the cool stuff he makes, it's this strange property that lets him take businesses that are certain failures, and to not only make them profitable, which would be absurd, but absolute giants, that dominate the spaceflight industry (civilian and private) and produce significantly higher gross automotive margins than those of not only BMW and Mercedes, but Toyota as well; all this despite the industry standard that it is $10,000 more expensive to make an electric car. FYI up until the recent supply chain woes, Tesla was increasing gross automotive margins each quarter by a couple of percentage points, despite cutting the prices of the cars by an even larger percentage (that's wild).

Musk is simultaneously the most overrated and underrated person alive. He's overrated because people think he's amazing because he makes cool cars and rockets ships, and because he's super "disruptive". Meh. He's underrated because people don't appreciate the degree to which he puts himself into situations with the most overwhelmingly certain probability of total failure and turns them into implausibly massive successes.

There is some special quality that allows Musk to totally defy probabilities, to an insane degree. At a certain point it's not luck. There is no reason to expect that this weird ability would not extend to Twitter. Everything he does is outside his domain of expertise. Twitter is the closest thing to his first businesses were he wrote all the code, so prima facie, if he has any "area of expertise" Twitter would be his only business that is plausibly related to that area of expertise.

I think that he is very very smart. I think that people dismiss this because fanboys on Reddit praise him for silly superficial things like disruption and making cool stuff. What you should care about, what matters for this conversation, and what is actually impressive about Musk is his ability to give the middle finger to the Gods of plausible outcomes. You hear so much fanboys praising him for silly reasons that one would dismiss the whole thing. He deserves that praise and more, but not for the reason that he gets it.

The whole idea that he's a genius because "cars, rocket ships, and disruption" is silly; it is Musk's absurd ability to shift probability's that stands out. By analogy it's like saying that Tom Brady is the best football player of all time because he's good looking. It totally misses the boat.

Everyone needs to take a step back and wait.

Those are fair points, but in each of those cases Musk was starting those businesses more or less from the ground up, and each of those businesses was based on a big dream that would revolutionize some industry sector. With Twitter he's spending a ton of his own money to take over an established business. And it's not like Twitter was flailing and in danger of going under and he had big plans to save it; he had some minor quibbles with moderation policy and spam filtering. The decision to buy Twitter (and waive due diligence) came across as impulsive, and proved to be so as he spent months trying to get out of it. He then gets rid of half the staff within weeks of taking over and replaces Twitter's verification system with a pay for play model that's so bad it's removed pretty quickly. Terminating staff may have been the right decision, but it's the kind of decision you come to after months of studying the problem since the cost of waiting is much less than the cost of finding out that the company actually needed a lot of the people you fired and the platform goes to shit in the meantime. The blue check thing is exactly the kind of thing that anyone could have predicted had they spent more than 30 seconds considering the possible downsides of giving blue checks to anyone who paid for one. And you can blame the advertisers leaving on ideological reasons but this is a copout—when your business model relies on advertisers then how they'll react has to be taken into consideration. If short-term instability makes it look like advertising on Twitter is a kin to lighting money on fire then advertisers aren't going to play. If Elon can right the ship in the long-term, then great, they'll come back then, but in the meantime he's going to have to make do with what he's got.

I think all these problems are emblematic of why Elon is, at least so far, ill-suited to run Twitter. He's used to starting things from the beginning, relying on investors for funding, and defining the ethos of the companies he runs. With Twitter he's taking over an established business without regard for what made the business successful in the first place, and is violating norms that may cost it. Elon is losing advertisers because Elon never had to rely on advertising revenue. If Elon wants to remake Twitter in his own image that's fine, but he has to realize that that means the company will have the revenue stream of a startup without being able to attract outside venture capital. He's going to have to fund this himself. He won't simply be able to make these kinds of changes while preserving Twitter's prior revenue stream. He wants to have it both ways, but it doesn't work like that.

Twitter is the closest thing to his first businesses were he wrote all the code, so prima facie, if he has any "area of expertise" Twitter would be his only business that is plausibly related to that area of expertise.

Twitter-as-business is very much not about the code but about community management - both on the user side and the advertiser side.

I never thought Musk was any kind of genius. I disliked him even more with the whole Thai paedophile cave diver thing. When the first news that he was thinking of buying Twitter came out, I thought this was just more shitposting on his part and wouldn't go anywhere.

The thing is, the amount of pure toddler foot-stamping tantrums that I am seeing about him running Twitter is forcing me to sort of admire Musk. I don't want to! But all the online social media (and I don't know how the hell it turned out that a lot of people I am sharing spaces with are so progressive, it's a spandrel of being in fandom spaces) is absolutely screeching about this, because of the perception that "free speech" means Musk would let everyone who had been banned by Twitter back on, and this would be the first step to the fascist dictatorship.

Because anyone the blue check marks (and how did that turn from "this just signifies that if this guys says he is Joe Schmo, it is the real Joe Schmo and not a fake account" into "blue check mark means Moses handing down the Law from Mount Sinai"?) considered beyond the pale with comments that were not "Brb, just dropping off my three year old genderfluid toddler to the Drag Your Kids To Pride show in the local dive bar/strip club!" had to be banned Or Else.

And now the Bad People are getting their chance to go online again, and this simply will not do. So everything Musk does must be mocked and the failure of Twitter is something to be hoped for, in order to teach him a lesson.

I don't know if he's running the place the right way. He may indeed be an idiot. Twitter may indeed fail (and I won't miss it for a second). But damn it, when he's posting video of "here's a cupboard full of #StayWoke t-shirts I found at Twitter HQ", I find myself laughing. And hoping he'll succeed.

Why are you all forcing me to kinda like Musk????

EDIT: Again, a lot of the comments I see are scolding/jeering that he fired all the engineers and vital people keeping the systems running, and now has to try and entice them back lest the entire thing collapses.

And then I read pieces where this is the kind of employee who was working there, and presumably either quit (because she didn't want to work for a bad guy) or was one of the laid-off:

A former Twitter employee, Sioban Massiah, also asked Musk to “Please send them to me.”

“We worked hard on that merch and I’d rather distribute it myself than to know it is in a garbage can,” tweeted the former live event programming associate producer for Twitter.

Ah yes, how will they ever keep the lights on without a live event programming associate producer on hand?

You can laugh at libs screeching at Sen. Tommy Tubbytummy (R-BUMFUCK) without liking him, you can cringe at conservatives make unfunny after unfunny joke at AOC without liking her - same goes for musk. There's no need to think he's brave and competent in twitter because you think he's a good head clown at the circus.

I think this is what has bothered me most about the people rushing to defend Musk. It's "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" mindset, and it's quite silly. There is no need to pick a side here. Both Musk and the people getting hysterical about Musk are acting like children.

You have to reward people for aligning with your goals or else they won't have any incentive to do so anymore. This is where the woke cult loses people -- there is never any redemption, only eternally ongoing penance, shame and punishment. Nothing you do is good enough. So why bother?

Man, I've been reading a lot of Climate Justice And Atonement blogs lately, and there is definitely a certain demographic that is all about unending shame and punishment. I feel like it's an urge left over from religion that was significantly neglected by humanist types and seized on by the woke.

For some of these people the only reward they want for spending their retirement savings on this stuff is for Greta Thunberg to step on their balls and yell that it's not enough. And I think any group trying to craft a counter-narrative has to acknowledge and engage with them somehow, a la Scott's "they love being berated" bit in his advice to conservatives post.

(Look I know that last part sounds uncharitable, but this dude literally had a post about how good it feels to imagine being scolded by the figurine of her he keeps on his desk. Far be it from me to criticize a man for his waifu, but come on bro: just go to a dominatrix club, it's a lot cheaper and I'm sure they have some angry goblins with pigtails)

For some of these people the only reward they want for spending their retirement savings on this stuff is for Greta Thunberg to step on their balls and yell that it's not enough.

Well, it's not. She wants them to spend your retirement savings, too.

being a good clown does take bravery

trolling powerful people does take bravery

you don't have to like what he does with his positive virtues to recognize when he demonstrates them

I'll support musk's bravery as much as I do a naked drag queen at a pride parade!

That's not entirely ironic, being a parasite has value in the long run, being able to fight them off makes one stronger. But the virtue of 'destroying the woke' and the virtue of 'unbanning the n word' (which he has not done) are different.

it doesn't need to be ironic at all; both can be acts of bravery for people

different, but necessary and sufficient

The thing is, the amount of pure toddler foot-stamping tantrums that I am seeing about him running Twitter is forcing me to sort of admire Musk.

I've seen the very same thing in the circles I'm in. I can't stop hearing this self-satisfied gloating from people about how Twitter is going to be gone in six months to a year and about how they have left Twitter for good after Musk's acquisition.

And yeah, there's also the profoundly disturbing talk about how the Shepherds Of Culture need to be allowed to censor things and control the informational environment to prevent people from seeing or even thinking about certain ideas because certain types of speech are just too dangerous to be allowed. Much better to have a centralised authority determine what Truth is for the unwashed masses!

It really makes me root for Musk.

I don't know if he's running the place the right way. He may indeed be an idiot. Twitter may indeed fail (and I won't miss it for a second). But damn it, when he's posting video of "here's a cupboard full of #StayWoke t-shirts I found at Twitter HQ", I find myself laughing. And hoping he'll succeed.

That's incredible, somehow I missed this. It's pretty indicative of what the political bent was at Twitter, despite complaints of progressive bias so often being derided as baseless by the mainstream.

The thing is, 90% of the population will always be making unfunny, low-IQ jokes about their $outgroup. The pro-musk people are incredibly unfunny and cringe being pro-musk, anti-musk people are the same. Picking a side off of that is dumb.

larping the objective, enlightened centrist is far more cringe than the pro-musk, anti-musk people

Musk is based and anti-woke. And he has ample money, which he spends for the betterment of humanity. But just being based and anti-woke is a good enough reason to like the guy.

His supporters are consistently funny; have you seen the meme responses to his tweets? I have seen the left's tweets towards Musk, and they have consistently been not only not funny but also quite toxic and hateful. Clearly, anti-woke Musk is way more respectable than woke-worshippers like Parag and Vijaya whose leadership incidentally also enabled Twitter to hire more safetyism-addicted engineers (who are thankfully being fired now).

The real question is, why does the left hate an anti-establishment, egalitarian, and pro-meritocratic guy like Musk? Could it be because the left is the establishment now? And they fear losing their power?

Musk is based and anti-woke

Based just means 'guy i like' now. Communists have been saying 'based' since 2016. Musk is an independent centrist who is good at engineering and management. Maybe that'll change! His memes, and those of his supporters, are about as funny as r/AdviceAnimals. I'll take @rapegroyper1488 and @gaypissretard420 being unbanned (not ironic), but that doesn't make him 'based' or right-wing or make his twitter decisions competent.

The real question is, why does the left hate an anti-establishment, egalitarian, and pro-meritocratic guy like Musk? Could it be because the left is the establishment now? And they fear losing their power?

the right has been saying 'whoa the left is powerful and bad and doesnt like us' for a century now, it clearly isn't enough to just go 'whoa what if the left isnt nice' over and over

the right has been saying 'whoa the left is powerful and bad and doesnt like us' for a century now, it clearly isn't enough to just go 'whoa what if the left isnt nice' over and over

Of course it isn't enough to just say that, you also need to dismantle their companies and drive their rent seeking members into the street.

I can't see musk taking any action to the right of a 1960 centrist, nor see a majority of left-wing companies be 'dismantled'. Nor do I see how twitter being musk-owned leads there. Twitter was the 'free speech wing of the free speech party', reddit had coontown, picsofdeadnslurs, and jailbait, and most of its members were still liberals!

Twitter was the 'free speech wing of the free speech party', reddit had coontown, picsofdeadnslurs, and jailbait, and most of its members were still liberals!

You don't see how there may have been some illiberalism creeping in over the last decade? Twitter banned a sitting US president and Reddit banned the fanclub of a sitting US president. I can't actually tell if you're asserting these things sarcastically or not.

My argument is essentially - this isn't going to beat "wokeness" (progressivism), or effectively contest it, so cheering it on like it will is confused. Your original post said "dismantle their companies and drive their rent seeking members into the street". Idk how woke ~ rentseeking, but musk's actions (with twitter) aren't leading to a large-scale dismantling of woke corporations. Musk paid much more than he wanted to for twitter (as seen by desperately trying to get out of the deal), and so far hasn't done much of value with it, nor shown vision to (so far! it's not gonna collapse, and maybe he'll do something great anyway, idk). Even if he unbans everyone, that isn't gonna stop the wokes - they got where they are now in the free speech system, pro-lgbtq universalist left-liberals were most of the ones fighting for free speech! And more broadly - the wokes didn't start with corporations, they have power in corporations due to influence in the rest of society -academia, media, politics, culture generally.

On freespeechtwitter, wokes will still get the most likes and followers, mainstream conservatives will still get lots of likes and not win much. maybe they'll continue to lazily and ineffectively appropriate far-right ideas, but people will still trans and push for antiracism, and advancing technology will confuse and degenerate even more.

Tangent - I don't get moldbug's 'twitter source of truth' proposal. Yeah, if musk could magically determine answers to questions in a way obviously better than the 'cathedral', that'd be powerful, but doing so is really hard! Presumably these answers would be, sometimes, reactionary - but who determines those? Who on the 'far-right' has the competence to 'authoritatively answer complex questions' and never get them wrong? The far-right, as scott said a decade ago, still "provide[s] a vast stream of garbage with occasional nuggets of absolute gold in them". It's arguably gotten worse, as the smarter reactionaries have mixed with dumber ones as that part of the far-right became more popular. I don't see anything or anyone that could populate an authoritative institution!

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I agree, but optics are not the foundational basis from which I've picked a side - my position is that Twitter is a social media platform with an incredible amount of reach which was essentially utilised as an activism tool by a specific group, it was where all the progressive elites went to evangelise to others and to themselves, and the moderation was effectively unequally enforced so that dissidents were treated far harsher. Regardless of whether Musk actually succeeds at changing Twitter or just kills it, I can't see things being worse.

I also don't tend to see too many pro-Musk sentiments around outside of certain specific threads and communities either, it seems to me that he's persona non grata in the mainstream and the right thing to do now in polite society is to flame him repeatedly. And I will admit, my positions get strengthened even further when their objections (to freedom of speech on social media) seem to be so poorly considered.

I predict that Twitter will be very successful, paving the way forward for other tech companies to adopt a similar fire-useless-people approach. The final result will be that the industry as a whole will get back to valuing meritocracy over bureaucratic diversity. I mean look how happy these people are. An MTGA (Make Tech Great Again) movement is uprising!

I mean look how happy these people are. An MTGA (Make Tech Great Again) movement is uprising!

My subjective perception of this is that there is a huge silent majority who just wants to code things. A large part of that group just wants to go to work, do stuff, and get money. A small part wants to hack away on cool shit, have fun, and talk shop with like-minded people. I think this way because the amount of eye-rolling and sighing when anything DEI-related comes up is becoming more and more visible (& audible). It's why so many people stayed at Twitter.

My own bet for the industry is that, in the short term, it will divide itself into companies where this silent majority can do what it wants and companies that continue to engage in ritualistic bureaucratic diversity. There are quite a few good engineers in the latter camp, but over the longer term, I think more engineers will gravitate toward the first group.

The big unknown quantity in this view is what are the younger, newer engineers, the ones just graduating, doing/thinking/planning. They're the ones most susceptible to listening to the loudest voices and may come in with a skewed perception and self-filter into the second (DEI) camp thinking that's the norm.

Also, if not for the 80h weeks, I would be applying to Twitter yesterday.

I completely agree.

80h weeks

Do we know this for a fact? Or it just rumors?

Not based on fact, but I see it as extremely likely given that:

  • SpaceX and Tesla both have a reputation of having people put in crazy weeks.

  • Musk recently warned Twitter employees to brace for 80h weeks soon.

  • The industry, as a whole, has extremely high variation in working hours. Some engineers get by working 20 or less hours per week, others work 80h+. In my own experience, I've seen a similar divide just between teams in the same company.

I'm happy to learn otherwise though. Working at a Musk company would allow me to make my work-time more productive rather than treating it as a paycheck machine that allows me to productively use my non-work time.

I'm about to start work at a Musk company (in January) for many of the reasons mentioned.

I expect to work harder than I do at my current employer (which is the biggest reason I'm making the change, actually). From talking with the folks there, 80 hr work weeks are definitely not the norm (but there were times in the company's past when they were more normal). 50 hr weeks maybe...but from what I'm told by these employees, doing long hours here mostly comes down to (1) Your own passion for your work and the mission, (2) your ability (or lack thereof) to get all of the expected work done in the regular 40 hr work week, (3) your own ability to set boundaries for yourself re:WLB (are you good at saying no?), and (4) your desire to rise thru the ranks/promote.

Good luck!

I'd love to hear how you like things there after you've had a few weeks to settle in.

I never thought Musk was any kind of genius.

You can take the guy out of reddit, but you can't take the reddit out of him.

What else do you think we should call the combination of very high intelligence, very low agreeablness, eccentricity and drive that led to everyone deciding that yes, reusable boosters are the way to go?

Yeah, I was not a fan of him previously, but have to grudgingly admire someone so dedicated to something that makes my outgroup seethe.

Some people are waiting for Twitter to fail just like some were waiting for Russians to take Kyiv :)

Musk makes mistakes but overall I think Twitter will neither be a great success nor failure.

It can't muddle along so easily with 13 billion in new debt, it's got to start cash flowing enough to service that debt or Musk has to start kicking his own money in to keep the company.

Running servers is not that expensive for twitter with small data amounts (tweets are short after all).

If it continues rolling along after he fired so many people, it might not exactly fit the standard definition of success, but it's going to have huge implications.

The standard definition of success for a company is how much money it makes (profit) and not how many people it employs. Although I can imagine that from the government point of view the number of employed people is also important. But the number of people working for Twitter was probably insignificant even for the US. I don't see any huge implications in this case.

The huge implication is that half of the people MegaCorps are hiring might be dead weight. It's not necessarily surprising, but it's one thing it's some sociologist talking about "bullshit jobs", and another when someone hands a pink slip to half of his workforce.

I'd say it's pretty common knowledge for, well, anyone who's worked in any large software company. The whole "10x engineer" thing is a bit of a meme (though they certainly exist -- competent people who really are just more efficient, produce better code, solve problems more effectively, and singlehandedly do more than entire teams of other programmers -- and without any of the normie cope about how they can only achieve these results by playing loose with standard practice or eschewing maintainability or extensibility) but you don't even need to believe they're out there when the existence of 0.1x engineers is clearly self-evident. "Rest and vest", whole communities based around juggling multiple WFH jobs simultaneously, etc. Then there are the employees who are literally worse than dead weight, the -x engineers, who somehow seem to stick around due to petty political bullshit, and everyone who actually does work wishes they'd just... stop, because their incompetent meddling just creates more work for people who actually know what they're doing.

The question is whether Elon culled the right people, and it's far too soon to know the answer.

"Rest and vest", whole communities based around juggling multiple WFH jobs simultaneously

Seriously ?

I've only seen it as a meme- some wag on HN saying "you can get hired so easily, slacking while doing WFH means you can string one job along for 10 weeks, do this in parallel for 6 places and I've collected 1.5 million this year.."

There's a whole subreddit: /r/overemployed/

Working two jobs is probably easier than you think. John Carmack talks about how the secret of getting more done is to have multiple tasks going. That way you can switch up when you're bored / blocked / frustrated. But managers love to put people on specific tasks and micromanage.

Provided the entire site doesn’t go down for weeks or months, it won’t “fall” since many core markets like Japan and other non-English speaking, non-Western-European countries don’t care about Musk’s politics or lack thereof. America does have the best ad market, though, so revenue could fall (and has fallen) substantially. I think the interesting question is will Twitter be worth more than $45bn (defined as a major equity sale to someone not buds with Musk or an IPO) in, say, 3 years’ time?

Musk has apparently announced that employee comp will include equity that gets released regularly as at SpaceX via secondary offerings, so presumably it won’t be difficult to track how the valuation changes.

I think there is a great chance (>50%) that it will be worth more but probably not by much.

Would you be willing to make a few concrete predictions (e.g., where you think Twitter will be in 6 months, a year, 2 years, in terms of userbase, revenue, whether it is still owned by Musk, moderation policy, etc?)

Hmm... What I'm willing to guess at:

IF there isn't a major failure of the technical side of the system caused by the personnel discontinuity (which is something I would classify as an unknown unknown, very hard to put a % on - because this risk, in some unpredictable form, might or might not be lurking somewhere in the sprawl, depending on how it was built, maintained and handed over to Team 2.0) I think a year from now, Twitter keeps on running, probably still unprofitably or roughly breaking even (costs down, but ad revenue also down), with a moderation policy perhaps a hair looser than anteMusk and noticeably less woke-bent. It remains in his possession, but he personally will no longer be involved with the daily operations.

The user base composition will be a test of the Scott Alexander theory of liberal v. neutral spaces... With the coming Amnesty of the Banned, we will see if witches end up pushing out the normies or vice versa.

And the stock price sure seems to indicate the belief in the latter. More than half of the value gone, YOY, as of the time of this writing.

Tesla was always bound to drop. It's been wildly overvalued for some time. A big benefit for Musk is that there weren't many shares floating around, which propped up the price, and consistently undermined short sellers. This also helped him reach his targets and earn billions.

With the economy the way it is, Tesla's share price was bound to drop. So Elon 'diversifying' by picking up Twitter might be the best thing to happen, even though he wildly overpaid. (Though it seems like a good chunk of people rolled their shares over, so I wonder how much he actually had to pony up to get Twitter). Anyways, cutting costs at Twitter is dead easy. It doesn't take much to run a social media site. Most social media sites seem to just shovel money into a bottomless pit, most of which does nothing to raise revenues or improve the average user's experience. They simply find ways to spend the money that comes in. It's the Wikipedia cancer thing. Revenues go up, expenses go up.

The core product of Twitter won't change. They don't need to spend $5 billion/year 'improving' it. Most of the jobs at Twitter are useless and can be safely cut. Twitter should be able to run for a tenth (or less) of the cost. Their revenue might drop a bit as premium advertisers pull out. But there are going to be plenty of companies who are happy to swoop in. So Twitter should have no problem making a few billion in revenues. It should be making an easy billion in profit each year (and probably more).

The real money maker for Twitter would be to allow shit like allowing people to subscribe to users (for $x/month), allowing people to 'tip' or give a 'super like' (for $x), allowing users to send subscriber-only tweets. Hell, I'd make twitter users pay to be able to take tips and get subscribers (basically make it so only 'verified' people can get paid subscribers/tips). You'll have lefties falling over themselves to pay Elon the monthly membership fee. And I'd have a premium level that includes a bunch of stats and analytics about followers, engagement, etc.

That could easily bring in a billion. The real money maker is all the people who get memberships thinking they'll convince people to subscribe, and then never getting any subscribers.

Social media (and most tech) sites are bloated as fuck and can withstand a lot of cuts. Most can be monetized to a much greater degree than they currently are. I think one of the most inefficient websites is probably YouTube. The amount of video uploaded everyday, 95% of it that will never get more than a couple views. You could eliminate the vast majority of it by introducing a paltry cost to upload, and you'd make money off those who continued. Imagine the billions YouTube spends on storage each year, especially redundancies. 95% of that cost going to scanning and storing videos that literally nobody will ever watch. YouTube could probably be more profitable than the rest of Google if it weren't for that.

We watched Facebook burn billions on their Metaverse. Companies pouring billions of ad dollars into Facebook, to put ads on people's timelines, and Facebook shovels that into a pit, rather than to their shareholders. Facebook's main source of revenue is the same thing it was 10 years ago. They'd be one of the most profitable companies if they just stuck to the timeline, sold ads, and collected the profits. But for some reason they'd rather shovel money into projects that go nowhere. Just like every other social media company. Most spending is a waste and won't produce value.

Social media companies are ripe for being bought out, stripped down, and turned into profit engines. Especially with the billions in losses on the books which add some value.

allowing people to 'tip' or give a 'super like'

One of the few new features in the last 10 years was when they tried to introduce a tip button. It used PayPal and a few other payment systems. Due to the default settings on PayPal, if someone sent a PayPal tip they got an invoice with the recipient's home address.

Needless to say, the "tip button that doxxes you" wasn't a big hit.

https://www.themarysue.com/twitter-tip-jar/

Really they should have just straight up charged $200 a tweet to reply to Trump. People would have paid.

They'd be one of the most profitable companies if they just stuck to the timeline, sold ads, and collected the profits. But for some reason they'd rather shovel money into projects that go nowhere.

Are you familiar with the BCG matrix?

Not really. Care to explain?

Basically, a company can classify its products using two axes: their market share, overall market growth. A successful product hits all four quadrants:

  • small share on a growing market (❓)

  • large share on a growing market (⭐)

  • large share on a stable market (🐮)

  • small share on a stable market (🐶, in the sense being taken behind the barn and put out of their misery)

An unsuccessful one just goes from ❓ to 🐶.

To turn a ❓ into a ⭐, you have to milk your 🐮 and use the money to boost it. You can't just milk your 🐮 and collect the profits, because every product will die sooner or later when its market dries up or is commoditized. That's why everyone is shoveling money into moonshot projects and startups.

Thanks for that!

As far as I know, Musk didn't start Tesla from scratch, though I do believe he founded SpaceX himself.

I see Musk as a master of financial manipulation. He's a great scammer (read: businessman). He does seem to be at least interested in technical details, but I doubt his skill goes beyond the level of an amateur enthusiast (i.e., not even rising to the level of a new professional), though I can't speak to this at all. I wasn't in the room when he was talking with Twitter engineers. Was he leading technical discussion, or listening in and asking questions? My guess is more the latter. I highly doubt he was wowing anyone there with his technical genius who wasn't already taken with his persona.

In my opinion his ultimate goals are kind of stupid. Mars colony isn't going to happen. I highly doubt high-speed rocket travel is going to happen. Boring Co., tunnels-for-Teslas-under-LA isn't going to happen. High speed satellite internet is kinda cool though. So, I think he finds a way to get some things done (or at least off the ground: NeuraLink), but most of the things he gets done aren't desirable or well thought out.

Twitter will probably still exist in a year. Might not be much better/more valuable than it currently is. Managing an already existing/functioning website is the easiest thing he's undertaken so far, so I don't expect him to fail catastrophically.

He does seem to be at least interested in technical details, but I doubt his skill goes beyond the level of an amateur enthusiast (i.e., not even rising to the level of a new professional),

It's incredible how well misinformed everyone is.

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I'm happy that my evaluation doesn't fall into the "average redditor" category. These are all second hand accounts, at least some (all?) from former employees. There are selection effects here. I'm sure I could dig up some former employee saying how stupid he is. So, this image has pulled me slightly more towards him being a technical genius AND a business genius, but I'm not wholly convinced yet. I'm really not impressed by him when I watch him speak or give presentations, and it's this direct experience of the man himself that I weight more than potentially biased second-hand accounts.

I'm sure I could dig up some former employee saying how stupid he is.

Try finding one rocket engine expert calling him a moron. I'll be waiting.

A lot of industry people called him a fool. Doesn't happen anymore since boosters started landing and flying again.

It’s just bizarre to me. Either you think Musk is literally the luckiest man in the history of the world by far or you have to respect that he was instrumental in starting three (arguably four with Starlink) massive businesses in disparate areas. For fuck sakes the guy started a successful car company. That hasn’t really been done since the 1930s. He helped start an online bank. He started a freaking successful rocket company.

The idea that person is a fool is absurd. It reeks of someone who has to be the smartest person in the room despite having middling accomplishments.