Twitter could be World Cup’s first knockout, warn employees

A shrinking workforce combined with a surge in usage may spell trouble for Musk’s latest purchase.

After months of rumours, backtracking, lawsuits, backtracking, and more lawsuits, Elon Musk finally bought Twitter for $44 billion by the end of October. Since then, he’s flipped the company upside down, laying off employees, cancelling remote work, and building resentment between him and his workforce.

You may have heard of the phrase, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. While Twitter seemed strong on the outside, the company went through a rough period before Musk’s acquisition. According to several reports, Twitter’s former management planned to cut approximately a quarter of the company’s staff.

Twitter’s growth has been relatively slow [Statista]

Additionally, Twitter’s faced stagnant growth over the past five years, peaking at just over 200 million daily active users. On the other hand, Meta’s products boast significantly more usage. Facebook gets 1.9 billion daily users. Instagram has 500 million and is on track for more growth. When comparing Twitter’s growth to other social media companies, it’s clear that it needs to do more.

Twitter 2.0

Musk promised to release features at a faster pace, allow free speech on the platform, and prevent spambots. He started by releasing a paid verification feature, allowing average users to have the iconic blue tick for $8/month. This led to increased spam on the platform, particularly with users impersonating major accounts, including Tesla. Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company, saw its stock crash after a verified impersonating account tweeted that insulin would now be produced for free.

Twitter Blue verification, the feature enabling paid blue ticks, was temporarily suspended, with Musk claiming it’ll be restored by the end of the month.

That was until a few days ago when Musk sent out an email to employees asking them to agree to “extremely hardcore” work; otherwise, their contract will be terminated the next day.

Mass layoffs

Reports claim that hundreds of employees declined Musk’s offer, leading to further loss of his already reduced workforce. It’s likely that senior workers, with longer years of experience and more job opportunities, were the ones that left Twitter this week. This poses further trouble for Twitter, as the company certainly lost experienced engineers who understand the codebase better than most.

A common myth in app development is that once the app is built, it can run smoothly with no extra work. However, large apps in particular face critical system errors pretty frequently, requiring engineers to put out fires as soon as they start. This is to minimise the impact on users.

Additionally, such companies have many different codebases and “micro-services”, each written with some level of uniqueness. This leads to knowledge silos, where some knowledge of the codebase is held by just a handful of engineers, sometimes even just one. The mass departure of many engineers means that it’s likely there are some codebases which are no longer maintained by any engineer. This means that it would take significantly longer to fix critical issues, as they may now require fixing by engineers that are not familiar with the breaking codebase.

Such a situation should ring up alarms if it happens in any business, particularly if it takes place over the weekend. As most people are off on weekends, it means that on-call systems may have no engineers assigned to them, and the remaining employees wouldn’t have had a chance to take on or train for new responsibilities yet.

What makes the situation even more catastrophic is that the World Cup takes place on Sunday, just two (weekend) days after Twitter lost many critical employees. Since Sunday is a weekend in the USA, where Twitter’s main headquarters are located, the platform is expecting a mass surge in critical errors (as a result of significantly increased usage).

If you think of Elon Musk as a captain of a large ship, he effectively threw more than half his staff off the ship right as he’s heading into the biggest storm he’s ever seen.

Twitter could sail through the storm, but it could very well break down too.

Some small downtime is unlikely to kill Twitter. However, repeated downtime throughout the World Cup could lead users to other social media websites. This includes established giants such as Instagram, Facebook and even Tumblr. It could also be the final trigger that pushes users towards a new service, such as Mastodon, which aims to replace Twitter.

To clarify, it’s extremely unlikely that Twitter will completely fail during the World Cup. But it’s no surprise if it faces increased downtime, and as a result, we may see people looking for another app that actually works.

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