What Is Going to Happen With Twitter?
An interview with an anonymous systems engineer
Last night on Twitter, nerds and losers said goodbye. “This was a hellsite indeed,” some wrote, “but my goodness … I certainly did have a few smiles.”
The mass funeral was prompted by news that Twitter itself might be dying. A significant number of employees chose not to take Elon Musk up on his offer to upgrade their job performance to “extremely hardcore,” and instead they quit. According to the New York Times, by Musk’s 5 p.m. ultimatum deadline on Thursday, “hundreds of Twitter employees appeared to have decided to depart with three months of severance pay.” That night, tech writer Zoë Schiffer spread the word that all employees had their badge access suspended while offices were temporarily closed, to reopen on November 21.
As Twitter users strapped on their Nikes and awaited pickup by spacecraft, they reminisced about the good times, posted nudes, and shared where to follow them — Patreon, Substack, Mastodon — as if anyone will. But before I say my own teary goodbye (Oh my … this certainly was a dumpster fire, but gosh … the birdsite swell did get me thru a very many years) I had a few questions about the death of Twitter. Naturally, I went to Jack Koloskus, the Gawker web designer, all-around computer guy, and coworker who helped me understand Mark Zuckerberg’s lie about legs.
GAWKER: First question is: how much of an expert are you about Twitter compared to how much of an expert you were about legs?
JACK: I know substantially more about legs than I do about Twitter. Honestly I even question whether I should be allowed to speak on the matter, but you are my friend so I will do what I can.
GAWKER: Thank you. My main question about what is happening at Twitter right now is: Even if it goes down while nobody is there, won’t it just go back up again once the remaining Twitter staff return to work?
JACK: If everything worked absolutely perfectly and all the internal systems were documented thoroughly then possibly. But when you’ve got hundreds (thousands?) of people writing code and hundreds (thousands?) of them are now gone, even if you fill all those jobs immediately, to get all those new people up to speed on running the systems and get the different entirely new teams interacting seamlessly would take months.
It also seems like within every complex software configuration there’s at least one thing that only one human knows how to operate at 100 percent efficiency. Everyone else on their team knows roughly how it works and can get it working 40 to 60 percent, but only the one old wizard who’s like Employee No. 12 knows all the weird rituals required to get it going. Like Ronald’s Universal Number Kounter but internal.
GAWKER: How long would it take to rebuild?
JACK: It probably depends on how much it is allowed to break. Months? At some point it would probably be easier to start from scratch, but then you’d lose the most valuable asset of Twitter, which is the existing user base.
GAWKER: Would it look different?
JACK: I know that Twitter had a decently sized and talented product design team and many are now gone, so I have to assume it would look different (worse).
GAWKER: What do you think is going to happen, is Twitter really gonna go away?
JACK: I have no idea, I do think we’ll see it more visibly break at least for a time. But I don’t think it will go away forever because, even if the current platform breaks, he’s still got the IP. I could see him saying something like, “It was never about the users, it’s about The Idea.” So the “brand” will live, and maybe there will be a second version of the site that’s a Frankenstein, if the first one breaks.
GAWKER: Do you think you could rebuild Twitter? What part would you best play on a Twitter-rebuilding team?
JACK: Six years ago I built one website in PHP, so maybe. The client was also not particularly happy with it, so actually definitely. And, as an aficionado of bad design, I think I would have a fun time implementing some bad design since all the talented product designers would and should stay far away from such a project.
GAWKER: Will you be sad if Twitter goes away?
JACK: Unfortunately, yes, I will be sad. While I deleted the app from my phone because there were so many dog-brained takes on there that I was worried I was poisoning my brain, I still think the content on Twitter is orders of magnitude better than on Instagram.
GAWKER: What is your favorite tweet?
JACK: It’s very hard to imagine being able to narrow it down to one. But maybe “Why do bash ‘dead-beat’ dads for not being there for their kids but we never question if the child has bad vibes? Or if they’re just unpleasant to be around?” Yes, it’s exactly the dog-brained stuff I mentioned above that made me delete the app, but I think it’s the perfect encapsulation of exactly what we would lose if we lose Twitter. You’ll always be able to easily find something funny on the internet. But you have to build a pretty weird system to be able to encounter opinions like this, from someone who genuinely means it, alongside news and jokes from your friends. It’s hard to imagine someone setting out with the specific goal to create that environment ever again.
And for whatever it’s worth, that tweet is still up, this guy has never deleted it.