Earlier this month, Elon Musk tweeted that “buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app.”
Clearly Musk, who as of Friday is Twitter’s new owner, is casting around for ways to recoup his $44-billion investment.
Many observers expect him to quickly introduce subscription features, such as the “edit” button that users have long requested.
But an “everything app,” a.k.a. a “super app,” is something else entirely.
Such all-in-one sites are popular in Asia — and are envied by Silicon Valley — but they aren’t easy to pull off.
Think Swiss army knife. An everything app basically has a tool for any situation that might arise.
Want to make a purchase? Check.
Book a flight? No problem.
Reserve a restaurant table? You got it.
Then, of course, there’s the full suite of communication resources, from messaging to social networking.
What Musk has in mind is the Chinese super app WeChat, which has more than a billion monthly users and has become a common part of daily life in China.
WeChat lets you book ride shares. It lets you send money to friends and family. It lets you handle e-commerce transactions. Some Chinese cities have even tested using 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 hard.”
An everything app requires either massive in-house business resources or far-reaching partnerships, neither of which is easy to pull off.
Many businesses won’t want to be beholden to another company in reaching customers. Amazon and Facebook have each drawn the ire of affiliates for not always acting in good faith.
Airlines, for example, withdrew 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 an everything app can streamline the experience.
Many Americans aren’t as limited in their online access and are comfortable surfing the web in search of the best deals.
And don’t overlook the privacy aspect of things. An everything app allows its owner to literally know everything about you.
So the big question: Is that a degree of power and influence you want to hand to an unpredictable figure like Musk?
Your answer to that question probably reveals why Musk’s goal of an everything app, and his likelihood of achieving it, may be very far apart.