Musk discusses putting all of Twitter behind a paywall

Will he go through with it? PLUS: Botched layoffs, how the new Blue could lose money, and more

Musk discusses putting all of Twitter behind a paywall
“twitter logo on a large black planet shooting a laser beam, digital art” / DALL-E

If Friday brought massive layoffs to Twitter, Monday brought fresh evidence that the company will never be the same. Musk has discussed putting the entire site behind a paywall, Platformer has learned. Meanwhile, the company is scrambling to lure back employees who it laid off mere hours ago, and some workers say the economics behind its soon-to-relaunch Twitter Blue subscription could actually lose the company money.

All of this took place against the backdrop of a company that still has yet to hear anything official from Musk, via email or a companywide meeting. As Monday began, after losing thousands of their colleagues days earlier, many employees didn’t know who their managers are.

Meanwhile, Musk’s increasingly erratic leadership, coupled with his habit of tweeting in eye-watering bad taste, gave many current and former employees I spoke with a sinking feeling about the future of their company.

Today let’s talk a bit more about how the company botched its layoff process, what happened inside Twitter on Monday, and what that paywall might look like.

I. The botch

Friday’s layoffs had been brutal for all involved, including those involved in planning them — many of whom themselves lost their jobs. While the process varied by team, some managers were asked to submit to Musk’s team two sentences about all of their direct reports: one sentence explaining what the employee did, and one sentence justifying their continued employment at Twitter.

“You were like, this better be a fucking good sentence,” one person asked to write such a list told me.

Managers agonized over the decisions, and jockeyed with their peers in an effort to preserve employment for the most vulnerable among them: pregnant women, employees who have cancer, and workers on visas among them, a former employee told me.

Some teams were cut more than others; several were wiped out entirely. As it turned out, though, the company went too far. As I was the first to report on Saturday, within hours of the layoffs, some managers were already being told to ask select laid-off employees if they wanted their old jobs back.

It began as a rumor on Blind, the app where employees of various companies can chat anonymously with their coworkers. But within a day it was being posted in public Slack channels.

“Sorry to @- everybody on the weekend but I wanted to pass along that we have the opportunity to ask folks that were left off if they will come back. I need to put together names and rationales by 4 PM PST on Sunday,” one such message from a manager to employees read. “I’ll do some research but if any of you have been in contact with folks who might come back and who we think will help us, please nominate before 4.”

“I think we might use some Android and iOS help,” the manager added. The company has been reaching out to both engineers and designers over the past day in an effort to get them back, Platformer is told.

Some employees are nervous that if Twitter can’t get them to return voluntarily, the company will formally rescind the notice they received Friday laying them off. Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, businesses with more than 100 full-time employees are required to give 60 days notice if they lay off 33 percent or more of the staff. At Twitter, that notice included a promise to pay people for the next 60 days and give them a month of severance.

Now workers fear that if they they refuse to return voluntarily, Twitter will fire them for abandoning their jobs, depriving them of what otherwise would have been three months’ pay. 

Some workers have begun to consult with lawyers over their options in the event that they are recalled. Others are in open revolt, tweeting public threads about various aspects of the organization that have been broken after the ready-fire-aim disaster of Musk’s layoffs process.

Meanwhile, remaining managers are bracing themselves for a much higher workload than they were previously used to. One person I spoke with was told that any technical manager should expect to manage at least 20 individual contributors, while also spending at least half their time writing code. Others have been given much higher numbers of direct reports.

II. The two Twitters

As today began at Twitter, there were essentially two groups at the company, one employee told me: those working on projects that Musk has been deeply involved in, such as the revamped Twitter Blue subscription, and everyone else.

“The couple of teams that are on his pet projects are doing 20-hour days,” one employee told me. “But the majority of the company is kind of just sitting around. No chain of command, no priorities, no organization chart, and in many cases, no idea who your manager or team is.”

To learn what they are supposed to do, employees looked to some unusual sources. After a number of celebrities and high-profile accounts began to impersonate him, Musk announced a new policy, via a tweet, that anyone found impersonating someone else would be permanently banned without warning. That was news to what remains of Twitter’s policy team, I’m told, and afterward some employees began discussing how to implement Musk’s edict.

Meanwhile, the health team was told to listen to Musk adviser David Sacks’ podcast for insights into why they had just lost half their colleagues, according to a former employee. Sacks, a venture capitalist who has been helping to manage the Musk transition, co-hosts the “All-In” podcast with fellow Twitter adviser Jason Calacanis and VC Chamath Palihapitiya.

“The most recent podcast covers the current layoffs happening across tech and provides some insight into why this is happening/necessary,” a vice president told employees. “I think it is worth listening to in order to understand the macro environment we are operating in."

Most employees were more interested in their health benefits, which had suddenly become a question mark. The company’s open-enrollment period was supposed to begin today, according to its global calendar, but no information was available in the company’s human-resources system. Employees posted several questions about benefits inside Slack today, but all went unanswered by management.

III. The Blue disaster

By the day’s end, I’m told, at least some teams had began to hold meetings in which employees were informed who their managers are, what their organization charts look like, and what their priorities will be.

But several employees I spoke with were still wrestling with one overarching question: do Musk and his team have any idea what they’re doing?

On one hand, the company is telling advertisers that it is thriving, The Verge’s Alex Heath reported, adding 15 million daily users since the end of the second quarter.

But the rollout of Musk’s first signature project, a new version of the Twitter Blue subscription that will allow anyone to get a verification badge, has been a disaster.

The company rolled out a new version of the app on Saturday with release notes that said the new Blue was now available. (The copy, written by Calacanis, was widely derided for sounding like a phishing email.) The problem is that Blue was not available, and so those who did subscribe found that they had merely gotten access to the current version of Blue.

Then, after a debate about the potential effects of unleashing thousands of new verified accounts onto the platforms in the middle of the US midterm elections, the company postponed the launch.

But the new Blue likely faces larger problems. The existing version only had a little more than 100,000 active subscribers, Platformer has learned. The new version will be 37.5 percent more expensive, and its value seems murky for most regular users of the platform. It’s unclear how the company will persuade enough people to subscribe to justify the effort.

Twitter employees tried to sell Musk and Sacks on the idea of asking business accounts to pay for extra features, since many of them use Twitter to reach large audiences. But they were dismissed in favor of offering wide-scale verification first, I’m told.

Other employees have warned about a secondary feature of the new Blue that Musk added at the last minute: reducing ad load in the Twitter app by half. Estimates showed that Twitter will lose about $6 in ad revenue per user per month in the United States by making that change, sources said. Factoring in Apple and Google’s share of the $8 monthly subscription, Twitter would likely lose money on Blue if the ad-light plan is enacted.

"The business fundamentals are just not there,” said one former employee who worked on the plans.

Musk has been heavily involved in the chaotic launch of Blue, participating in standup meetings and exchanging regular emails with Esther Crawford, a director of product management at the company. “There is one decision-maker and that is me,” Musk told workers, according to meeting notes shared with employees in Slack.

“Any detail of Twitter Blue must be clear w/ him down to the last detail,” the message added.

But all of that could be a prelude to the biggest change of all: charging most or all users a subscription fee to use Twitter.

Both Musk and Sacks have discussed the idea in recent meetings, according to a person familiar with the matter. One such plan might allow everyone to use Twitter for a limited amount of time each month but require a subscription to continue browsing, the person said.

It could not be learned how serious Musk and Sacks are about the paywall; Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. It also does not appear imminent, as the Blue team is wholly occupied with the launch of expanded verification.

Still, given Twitter’s huge debt burden, the backward economics of Blue, and the recent pause in spending by major advertisers, it’s clear that Musk and his brain trust will have to do something to significantly increase revenue. And whatever they choose, it seems increasingly clear that Twitter will never be the same.

Elsewhere in Twitter: Elon Musk’s celebrity lawyer, Alex Spiro, played a key role in the Twitter layoffs, during which the company fired more than 90 percent of its staff in India, leaving it with just 12 employees in a key growth market. Jack Dorsey finally entered the chat, tweeting that many Twitter employees were mad at him for “growing the company too quickly.” Then he complained that Musk had renamed Birdwatch.

Elsewhere, Twitter is delaying the rollout of paid verification until after the midterms. But not before lots of users saw release notes for the app saying it was already live. Also, Musk said Twitter users who engage in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended. This was news to what remains of the the policy team.



Those good tweets

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