Elon Musk says Twitter's algorithm could become open source next week

Move will allow public to inspect and scrutinise some of the platform's proprietary software

Elon Musk instructed a team of Twitter engineers last week to tweak the platform's algorithm to boost his tweets. AFP
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Twitter's algorithm could be opened up to the public as soon as next week, setting the stage for a potential major shift in the company's direction, chief executive Elon Musk said.

Mr Musk made the comment on Tuesday in response to a tweet from another user, who suggested that making the microblogging platform's code open source would leave him “truly impressed”.

“Prepare to be disappointed at first when our algorithm is made open source next week, but it will improve rapidly,” Mr Musk said.

The move will allow the public to inspect and scrutinise the social media company's proprietary software, pitch their ideas to developers on how to change Twitter's code or even use the algorithm in their own applications.

In a tweet last year, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey said that the platform's algorithm should have been open, and voiced regret that it became a company instead of a protocol not owned by anyone.

Opening up Twitter's code could also put it on a collision course with Mastodon, the social network created by a German developer that has become an alternative to Twitter.

Mastodon is a decentralised platform, meaning no single person or organisation owns or regulates it, similar to cryptocurrency — which is what Mr Musk envisions for Twitter.

An open-source Twitter was one of Mr Musk's pledges during his campaign to acquire the platform, which included promises of several reforms, including the promotion of free speech and addition of an “edit” button, which has been introduced for Twitter Blue users in some countries.

Twitter's algorithm made the news last week, when Mr Musk instructed a team of his engineers to tweak it in order for his tweets to gain traction, resulting in a flood of his messages appearing on users' feeds, Platformer.news reported.

It is unclear whether Mr Musk — a prolific and impulsive Twitter user with about 129.4 million followers — will follow through with his statement.

The world's second-richest person, who bought Twitter last year for $44 billion, is notorious for sending out tweets that turn out to be a joke.

Arguably the most infamous — and costliest — instance was in 2018, when the Tesla chief executive tweeted that he was taking the electric vehicle maker private at $420 a share, with “funding secured”.

The deal never materialised and it resulted in Mr Musk and Tesla settling with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for $40 million.

Mr Musk's time at the helm of Twitter has been tumultuous. He has fired more than half of the company's employees and shut down units and offices globally after he acquired it in October, raising concerns that there may not be enough people to carry out oversight roles in key areas of its operations.

He had previously claimed that the company was losing $4 million a day, and laid out plans to boost the platform's revenue by five times to $26.4 billion by 2028.

In Twitter's last financial report before its acquisition, the company swung to a net loss of more than $270 million in the second quarter of 2022, compared with a net income of about $65.6 million in the same period a year earlier.

Twitter is also moving forward with plans to introduce a payments feature on its platform, steering it towards Mr Musk's plans to tap into new revenue streams, the Financial Times reported last month.

Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai last week, Mr Musk said the journey so far had been “quite a rollercoaster” as he tried to “stabilise Twitter”.

He said that he went ahead with the purchase because he wanted to create a trusted digital platform.

Updated: February 22, 2023, 8:46 AM