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Sunday, September 4, 2022

X.com - How Elon Musk Could Reinvent The Internet

If you're familiar with the lore of Elon Musk, then you know he's one of the PayPal Mafia. Musk's x.com merged with Confinity in early 2000 to form PayPal. Musk has retained ownership of the x.com domain for the last 22 years since the creation of PayPal left it without a purpose. As of yet, Musk has done nothing with the URL which he has refused to release for so long.

PayPal was soon acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion. Musk has said that the innovation rate at PayPal plummeted after the acquisition. At that time PayPal was essentially a one-trick pony, you could pay someone by using their email address. It was a nice trick, but Musk and the other Mafia members had a grandiose vision far beyond this for PayPal's future. The plan was for it to be the one-stop-shop for all your financial needs; where you could do all of your traditional banking (savings, checking, credit cards, loans...), investing, and more. The “and more” is the exciting bit. We'll explore what this could mean soon, but first - Twitter. 

The House That Jack Built 

If you're reading this, you undoubtedly know that Musk attempted to buy Twitter earlier this year and it has become a chaotic tumult. The board of Twitter initially resisted Musk's takeover attempt, then changed their mind, just as Musk decided he no longer wanted to go forward with the proposed deal... The courtship has the makings of a rom-com plot. Now they are in court to see who will own Twitter and who will have to pay for breach of contract.

So why does Musk want Twitter? Is it just to continue his meme-lord trolling unabated? No (well at least not just for that purpose).

Musk tweeting about x.com as a potential platform

As the tweet above indicates, if the Twitter deal does not go through then Musk may launch x.com to fulfill his vision. In the 2022 Tesla shareholder meeting, Musk indicated that acquiring Twitter would accelerate his plan by 3 to 5 years. What is that plan?  

There's one more ingredient that I'd like to throw into the pot before we start mixing them to see what might come out. That final ingredient is Dogecoin.


The Doge Father

I don't think Musk's obsession with Doge is only because it's fun and memeable. Bitcoin is the grandfather cryptocurrency, but Doge might be a better fit for Musk's purposes. Doge is fundamentally different from Bitcoin in several ways: 

  • Bitcoin was intended to be a new decentralized currency; Doge was started as a joke
  • Bitcoin has a max supply of 21 million coins; Doge had no defined limit
  • The price of Bitcoin has been as high as $65,000 USD; Doge has never been over $1
So what do these three big differences mean? Bitcoin is more like digital gold. It can be a store of value, but it is not very transactional. Doge, on the other hand, primarily because it low price, is much more utilitarian. It is much easier to understand the price of something if it is 5 Doge, rather than 0.0003 Bitcoin.

Further, Bitcoins scarcity grants a tendency for the price to increase over time. This makes it more likely that people will want to horde Bitcoin. Doge, on the other hand, has no built-in scarcity. As more Doge are issued, its price will tend to depreciate. This disincentives hoarding. If you have Doge, you'll be more likely to spend it.

MiXing It All Together

The three ingredients that we're mixing into this vision are a payment platform, a social platform, and a transactional digital currency.

What could X.com become:

   X.com for exchanging ideas
   X.com for exchanging funds

X.com - Mr. Musk, Tear Down This (Pay)wall!

The days of subscribing to just one or two paper newspapers for all of your news are long gone. Today, most of us get our news online from aggregators (e.g., Apple News, Google News, or Flipboard) and/or from social media. This means that there are many potential news sources for interesting articles that are shared. Some of these sources use paywalls to restrict their content exclusively to subscribers.

When the news stories that roll past our screens come from all over the world, subscribing to Hindi Times, Statesman Journal... and all of the regional sites for 2 years because they have one article that I happen to be interested in, is not a viable option.

I suspect this is a problem that many of us have encountered. The average digital subscription is $10 per month. It is unrealistic to think that anyone would have tens of subscriptions at that price. Rather, if there's a story I'm interested in, what I typically do (as I assume many of is do) is google the topic and find another (free) source covering the same story (often using the paywalled article as a source).

How could x.com fix this? Doge

All x.com accounts would come with a built-in Doge wallet. This could be funded by the user or the x.com paid tier (like Twitter Blue) would receive a monthly stipend of Doge. This wallet will be used to access paywalled content without a direct subscription. This would allow the publishers to be paid for their content and allow the public an ala carte option to only pay for the specific articles that they are interested in.



X.com - Pravda & Clickbait 

If you have people on the platform that have verifiably paid for access to an article, you could then allow them to rate the article. This would help weed out clickbait that don't deliver the content they tease in the headline. If Musk wanted to deep-dive in this area, articles could be rated on several metrics (accuracy, comedy, credibility, comprehensiveness...) fulfilling his 2018 Pravda vision. 

Will this yield the wisdom of the crowd or the ignorance of the masses? We may find out. We'll call this a bonus ingredient.

X.com - Peer Acknowledgement - Creator Support - Tip Jar 

Occasionally, online you see something that's insightful, inspiring, or just makes your day. When this happens, you might want to more than just click like, you might want to give the creator a tip. With everyone having a Doge wallet as part of their account, it would be easy for creators on the platform to have tip jar.

X.com - Live Events 

If you want to hold a live event similar to Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse, what if you charged a Doge or two to enter or to be promoted to speaker? Popular creators could hold large events and make it very easy for people to buy tickets to an online concert, speaking tour, or stand-up act. These could be immersive 360 events or simply audio. Attend live podcast recordings and pay a few Doge to ask a question... There are a lot of possibilities.  

In Conclusion

There's a lot of potential for a new media site that has a native internet currency. Musk could be the one to bring this into existence either as a next-gen Twitter or as the new x.com. The new site would have a crowdsourced mechanism to evaluate media content and sources. Until then, we have the courtroom drama to watch, to see how the legal battle unfolds, to find out if the single lonely letter x that resides on X.com will ever become something more. 

8 comments:

  1. Interesting premises, I'm curious how much plays out, and yes twitter would be a great head start to much of this. It would also explain why he's so concerned with the number of illegitimate accounts (not just bots as some are useful, or people obscuring their identities).

    I'm concerned with his free-speech absolutism, which he clearly doesn't always believe in when you look at jet-tracker boy, or the tester that begged for earlier access and then criticized for two recent examples.

    This has room for many futures and I like the way you roped in several of his public concerns over the years, this has great potential but I hope it doesn't go the way of "Truth" social, or the 'chan sites, or Silk Road (the digital one).

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    1. Great points G. Free speech is great, but no one wants to be in a room with a bunch of yelling idiots or spam bots. Finding the right balance is hard. Users would need good tools to filter, block, moderate... I would never want to run something like this. It's impossible to do it right; it's only measured in degrees of least bad options.

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  2. Lots of room to run here, many interesting ideas that make a great deal of sence!

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    1. Thanks Mark. Should be fun to watch how this unfolds over the next few years.

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  3. X-Com?! I loved that game! In all seriousness, there are some interesting things here, but there are also a few things that give me great pause.

    When I read this post, I had to take a look at when I first signed up for PayPal - and that year was 2003. I was (and am) very interested in the notion of a "trusted entity" which would allow for me to perform money transactions seamlessly and without middlemen, anywhere in the world. When I look at a credit card, think about the notion of interchange and transfer fees (of various types), I see relics of a time long gone. I had thought that PayPal could be the entity which could somehow break through the byzantine rules of worldwide banking and make the notion of a credit card obsolete. PayPal, in my mind, would simply be the bank and I would be provide a line of credit in some form from which I could make transactions. I was ready for it to be my banking institution as well, a place where I could bank, purchase IRAs, etc. Those thoughts have all rotted, and I view it as a semi-trusted middleman which helps prevent my credit cards from being distributed to every website I might want to purchase from - assuming PayPal is accepted. Maybe...someday....maybe.

    The free speech angle I find amusing, in this context specifically, as I tend to think that the creation of an X.COM for this purpose would do nothing more than siphon off the lunatic fringes and face all the growing pains any new platform of this scale faces. See Truth Social - sure, you a free to say bat-shit crazy things, but this in no way ensures what is said has any factual weight behind it.

    As you commented about, and is one of the challenges of these various forums in general, is one of the questions that I feel fundamentally has not been solved by the world wide web yet, and that is simply "Are you who you say you are and are you a human?". Create any new "social" platform you want, and if you want what is described here, you are going to have to solve that problem in some way. I wish you luck.

    Now, the idea of rating content is cool in theory, but it will run smack dab into the bot vs human vs good actor vs bad actor type issues. The reasons we tend to trust (or at least give them the benefit of the doubt) things like Snopes is that the articles tend to have multiple references from different sources that themselves can be referenced. You could not just have a mechanism of "Likes" or anything so simple from unknown/unverifiable entities. I will await any official launch of X.COM to see what mechanism is created, but I find this notion highly suspect.

    Circling back to PayPal to address the Doge angle here - I don't get it at all. The idea of directly paying individuals for things I enjoy is fine, and I do, but I sure as hell don't need cryptocurrency to do it. It works just fine on YouTube, Twitch and other platforms. What concerns me is not the "form" of the money, but understanding what it is and what it represents. For me, the crypto world is far too speculative and we have real world examples where Elon's influence has "moved the needle" so to speak on the value of some of these items ex: BitCoin when he states that Tesla would not accept it. There are other examples. Fundamentally, what does Doge actually offer me? I still need some sort of wallet to hold this currency, the platform needs some sort of way to accept it. Just accept PayPal and move on.

    It will be interesting to watch - I think it will just be interesting enough to see how this Twitter mess ends up. I do like some of the concepts, but I don't see this offering anything fundamentally new - just different. Time will tell I guess.

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  4. A lot of great points there Kevin. You are right, nothing here is really new, it's just about packaging and usability. "Tip Jars" exist in many forms today and Doge is not required for it (it could just be more fun).

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  5. An additional thing in the mix here is that Starlink will soon be one of the largest ISPs in the world if not the largest before long. Most larger ISPs provide at least some content. The offer for Twitter may have been the beginning of putting together that content. Almost certainly the primary domain of Starlink if it is not already will soon be X.com. It has already been announced that Starlink is partnering with cellular providers to allow their phones to connect from anywhere in the world. I would expect that over time more services will be provided.

    For developing the content it is important to note that this year Starlink will likely bring in over $1 billion in revenue. Starlink will likely double its annual revenue every year for at least the next few years. With this type of income stream they could launch their own crypto currency with a robust set of financial services that spans the globe.

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    1. Awesome point. Starlink could definitely be added to the miX.

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