For more than 10 years, Twitter has become recognizable for its blue and white bird logo, which has come to symbolize the social network’s unique culture and vocabulary. To “tweet” became a verb. A “Tweet” refers to a Post. “Tweeps” became the nickname for Twitter employees.
Late Sunday night, Elon Musk started to get rid of it all.
The tech billionaire, who bought Twitter last year, renamed the social platform X.com on its website and began replacing the bird logo with a stylized version of the 24th letter of the Latin alphabet. Inside Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco, according to photos seen by the New York Times, the X logo was introduced in the cafeteria, while conference rooms were renamed with X-words, including “EXPOSER,” “EXULT” and “S3XY.”
Mr Musk has long said he might change the name, but has accelerated the process do early Sunday when he announced that “soon we will be saying goodbye to the Twitter brand and slowly to all birds.” He has said that he hopes to turn Twitter into an “everything app” called X, which will include not only social networking but also banking and shopping.
Monday morning, Mr. Musk also shared a picture A giant X projected over Twitter’s San Francisco office building with the caption: “Our headquarters tonight.”
These moves – which are ongoing – are the most visible changes Twitter has made since Mr Musk completed a deal to buy the company in October. Behind the scenes, he has made a series of moves to overhaul the firm, laying off thousands of employees and changing features of the platform, including badges that were meant to verify users, as well as rules governing what can and cannot be said on the service.
Yet the name and logo change was impossible to ignore. And by starting to drop the Twitter name, Mr Musk uprooted a strong brand that had existed since 2006 – when the company was founded – and that had delighted and frustrated celebrities, politicians, athletes and other users alike. Twitter introduced its blue bird mascot in 2010 and updated it two years later.
Many Twitter users, who have spent years tweeting and building a presence on the site, appeared alienated by the change. “Has everyone seen the (eXRable) new logo?” actor mark hamill Tweeted on Monday with the hashtag #ByeByeBirdie. Others saw the move as Mr Musk’s latest blow to the site, with some adamantly saying they would still call the site Twitter and continue to “tweet”.
When brands become verbs, it’s a “holy grail,” said Mike Proulx, vice president and research director at Forrester, because it means they’ve become part of popular culture.
“The app itself has become a cultural phenomenon in every way,” he added. “In one stroke, Elon Musk has essentially erased 15 years of brand value from Twitter and is now basically starting from scratch.”
Mr Musk risks the wrath of Twitter’s users, even though he can’t afford to annoy them. His company is facing financial difficulties and increasing competition, with rival Meta this month releasing an app called Threads for real-time, public conversations. The new app achieved 100 million downloads in less than a week, though the app’s usage has come under scrutiny.
Mike Carr, co-founder of branding company Namestormers, said Mr Musk’s X logo could be interpreted as an ominous “Big Brother” tech overlord vibe. Unlike the Blue Bird, which he described as warm and embracing, but perhaps a bit out-of-date and bogged down by bad press, the new logo is “too harsh”, he said.
Still, it coined phrases like “X marks the spot” and could help Mr. Musk separate the platform from his Twitter bag, Mr. Carr said.
“If they do it wrong and it happens to be someone other than Elon Musk, he will be at greater risk because people can start making fun of it,” said Mr. Carr, who has helped bring the name to thousands of customers including CarMax, the used car company.
Mr. Musk has long been interested in the name X. In 1999, he helped found x.com, an online bank. The company changed its name after merging with another start-up, which later became PayPal.
In 2017, Mr. Musk said that he had bought back the X.com domain from PayPal. “There are no plans at the moment, but it has emotional significance for me,” he said. Tweeted those days.
Tesla, Mr Musk’s electric automaker, also has a sport utility vehicle called the Model X. One of Mr. Musk’s sons, X Æ A-12 Musk is often referred to as X for short. The holding companies formed to close the Twitter acquisition were named X Holdings. Mr. Musk also leads an artificial intelligence company called xAI.
“I like the letter X,” he Posted on Sunday.
Mr Musk has shown disdain for Twitter’s previous corporate culture. They have disputed the number of bird references in the company’s internal team names and products. At one point, he changed the name of the crowdsourced fact-checking feature from “Birdwatch” to “Community Notes”. He recently covered someone named Twitter at the San Francisco headquarters.
Among those who didn’t seem fazed by the change was Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey. He said in a tweet on Monday that the rebrand was not “necessary” to achieve Mr Musk’s vision, but there was a rationale for it.
“The Twitter brand carries a lot of weight,” Mr Dorsey wrote, “But what matters is its utility, not the name.”
Martin Graser, an artist from San Francisco part of a team In 2011 it helped design the latest Twitter bird logo, said it was intended to convey “simplicity, brevity and clarity”. The goal, he said, was to create a logo that was as memorable as Apple or Nike.
Mr Grasser said Mr Musk can do whatever he wants with the brand, but “I hope the bird will have a place in culture that will be a happy memory or become one of those logos that belongs to culture rather than a company.”