Web money

Elon Musk wants Twitter to be a “multipurpose app”. What is that?

Earlier this month, Elon Musk tweeted that “the purchase of Twitter is an accelerator for the creation of X, the universal application”.

Eh?

It’s clear that Musk, who became the new owner of Twitter on Friday, is looking for ways to recoup his $44 billion investment.

Many observers expect it to quickly introduce subscription features, like the “edit” button that users have long been asking for.

But an “everything app”, i.e. a “super app”, is something else entirely.

These all-in-one sites are popular in Asia — and the envy of Silicon Valley — but they’re not easy to pull off.

Think of the Swiss army knife. An all app basically has a tool for any situation that might arise.

Want to make a purchase? Check.

Book a flight? No problem.

Book a restaurant table? You got it.

Then, of course, there’s the full suite of communication resources, from messaging to social media.

What Musk has in mind is the super Chinese app WeChatwhich has over a billion monthly users and has become an integral part of daily life in China.

WeChat allows you to book carpools. It allows you to send money to friends and family. It allows you to manage e-commerce transactions. Some Chinese cities have even tested the use of WeChat for official identification purposes.

“You basically live on WeChat in China,” Musk told Twitter employees in June.

The big question: Can such a thing be accomplished here? And if so, why hasn’t anyone done it?

The answers are “maybe” and “because it’s really, really difficult”.

A complete application requires either massive internal commercial resources or large-scale partnerships, which is not easy to achieve.

Many businesses will not want to be beholden to another business to reach their customers. Amazon and Facebook have each drawn the ire of affiliates for not always acting in good faith.

Airlines, for example, pulled their tickets from some online travel services because they wanted people to book through the carriers’ own sites.

Then there’s the logistical hurdle. Most people in Asia access the internet through mobile devices, so a comprehensive app can streamline the experience.

Many Americans aren’t as restricted in their online access and are comfortable surfing the web in search of the best deals.

And don’t neglect the private aspect of things. An all-in-one app lets its owner literally know everything about you.

So the big question: is that a degree of power and influence you want to give to an unpredictable figure like Musk?

Your answer to this question likely reveals why Musk’s goal of an all-app, and his likelihood of achieving it, may be so far off.