Esther Crawford on Twitter, Before and After Charles Foster Musk’s Takeover

Esther Crawford (previously mentioned here, when she bragged about sleeping at work to meet an unnecessary deadline at Twitter), wrote a fascinating essay about her time at the company, before and after Musk’s acquisition.

Although I didn’t know much about Elon I was cautiously optimistic — I saw him as the guy who built incredible and enduring companies like Tesla and SpaceX, so perhaps his private ownership could shake things up and breathe new life into the company.

Crawford was inside the company, and I’m far outside it, but that’s exactly why I was optimistic about Twitter under Musk too. Twitter had ossified years ago — maybe a decade ago — and needed a drastic shake-up, a jolt to the entire system, both in the company’s culture and the product. And while I think Twitter under Musk is now far worse, he absolutely did shake things up, and the overall state of Twitter-like-services is today far, far better than it was before. Mastodon was irrelevant pre-Musk-buying-Twitter. The growth it saw after November never would have happened otherwise. I’m now optimistically bullish on Threads, and I don’t think Threads would even exist if not for Musk buying and wrecking Twitter.

I thought this was a keen insight:

Elon has an exceptional talent for tackling hard physics-based problems but products that facilitate human connection and communication require a different type of social-emotional intelligence.

Another way to think about this (and I’m cribbing from something Ben Thompson said on Dithering this week) isn’t about Musk’s lack of empathy, but simply the nature of software itself. The immutable laws of physics push back against Musk’s unreasonable demands in ways that aren’t applicable to software. He doesn’t seem to listen to people who disagree with him, but he has to listen when physics disagrees. (Today’s earlier story about Tesla fudging range estimates is purely dictated by software.)

Software demands more creative discipline than hardware, because so much discipline is baked into the nature of creating hardware. Hardware instills discipline in people; people must instill discipline into software.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that in all of this there is also a cautionary tale for anyone who succeeds at something — which is that the higher you climb, the smaller your world becomes. It’s a strange paradox but the richest and most powerful people are also some of the most isolated.

I found myself frequently looking at Elon and seeing a person who seemed quite alone because his time and energy was so purely devoted to work, which is not the model of a life I want to live.

Charles Foster Musk, muttering “X” instead of “Rosebud”.

Thursday, 27 July 2023