Elon Musk is the best thing that could have ever happened to Mark Zuckerberg. As Musk begins to change Twitter’s branding to X, Facebook’s rebrand to Meta doesn’t seem all that bad.
Zuckerberg might be good at lifting weights these days, but he still needs to pull Meta out from a seriously rough few years. After rebranding to Meta in 2021, the company formerly known as Facebook spent $13.7 billion on VR and AR in 2022, though its social VR apps like Horizon Worlds remain incredibly unpopular.
Zuckerberg was once the most reviled man on the internet. We watched as he faced a social media executive’s worst nightmare, testifying before the Senate over Facebook’s blatant failure to protect user data. We laughed at him, not with him, as he shared his love for “smoking meats” and Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce. We doubted our sense of reality when took a big swing (and, so far, a big miss) and renamed his company Meta, quadrupling down on the bet that we all want to wear VR headsets all day.
Enter, Zuckerberg’s saving grace: Elon Reeve Musk, FRS. You know what’s even worse than investing $13.7 billion into something no one wants to pay for? Investing $44 billion into something that no one wants to pay for. Now, some people are thirsting after Zuckerberg because he’s gotten pretty buff with all his cage fight training. Everything’s coming up Mark, even Meta’s stock!
Musk and Zuckerberg have seemed somewhat serious about the possibility of cage fighting each other at the Roman Colosseum (personally, I want this fight to happen, because one TechCrunch manager has jokingly agreed to send me to Italy to cover the match, and I know he wasn’t serious, but hey, isn’t there a little truth to every joke?). But maybe the closest thing we’ll get to that battle is now unfolding before us: what corporate branding sucks more, Meta or X?
Twitter was a bit liberal with the whole bird thing, and Musk disliked that from the get-go, changing “Birdwatch” to be called “Community Notes.” But this all-encompassing branding change didn’t come out of nowhere. Musk has made so many bad business decisions at Twitter (or are we calling it X now?) that some people have theorized he could just be trying to run it into the ground for fun. I don’t think that’s true, though. Musk has been obsessed with the letter X for decades now — his first big company was x.com, the domain he is now trying to redirect to Twitter. That venture would be renamed to PayPal, which makes a lot more sense for a company that helps people make payments on the internet. Musk calls his toddler X, instead of his full name, X Æ A-12, and upon buying Twitter, he declared that he wanted to turn the company into “X, the everything app.” Not to mention that he already has SpaceX (get it? X?), and he just announced another company he is apparently building, which is called xAI.
“There’s absolutely no limit to this transformation,” tweeted (or X-ed?) CEO Linda Yaccarino. “X will be the platform that can deliver, well….everything.”
We all clowned on Facebook’s name change to Meta, but it at least somewhat makes sense. Meta is a cohort of apps, just one of which is Facebook, but Facebook arguably isn’t any more important than WhatsApp or Instagram… and don’t forget Musk’s personal kryptonite, Threads. It’s kind of nice to be able to easily distinguish between whether we’re talking about Facebook the platform or Facebook the company, even if Meta is a stupid name, referring to a metaverse that no one wants. After all, Google rebranded to Alphabet, since the company has grown considerably beyond just a search engine. But X is a preemptive rebrand that assumes that Twitter will soon house a family of apps like Meta, yet none of these apps exist yet. And even if Musk does pull off developing payments, texting, gaming, or whatever he’s doing, is X really a good name?
When using computers, we’ve been conditioned to associate X with the button that you press to close out of something. Not great for user retention, there. Of course, XXX is shorthand for pornography, which I’m not too pressed about, since that’s one arena Musk actually could leverage to make Twitter profitable (advertisers already left anyway!). But that’s not the case for now, and users have already pointed out that videos on Twitter could soon be referred to as “X videos,” which is the name of a porn site. Twitter’s new logo could be ill-fated in any case, though, since it seems to be similar to a Unicode X character, making it difficult to copyright. Twitter doesn’t even seem to have the scalable vector file of its new logo yet, judging by how it looked when projected in massive size on the side of Twitter’s San Francisco HQ.
So, the great Musk-Zuck cage fight is finally upon us. Unfortunately, it’s a bit less exciting than an epic duel in the world’s most iconic arena. It’s a battle of bad choices.