There are a lot of theories as to why Musk would go from the widely-recognizable “Twitter” to a single letter name like X.
Much like colors, brands can “own” letters, but only in certain markets. UPS owns their distinctive shade of brown in the shipping industry, but if Hershey chocolates decides they want brown and yellow wrapping on a special edition bar, UPS can’t tell them not to. Why? Nobody is going to confuse Hershey chocolate for a product of UPS. Tiffany owns their robin’s egg blue within the jewelry and fine glasswork market, but again, if Hershey wants to use robin’s egg blue on their Easter candy, Tiffany has no legal way to stop them even if they wanted to. And they don’t!
Letters are much the same: many social media sites own a stylized version of the first letter in their name to maintain recognition even in teeny designs like app icons, including big ones like Facebook and Google. So, on the surface, switching to a single letter follows a cogent line of logic. The problem? Tumblr owns the letter “T” for social media. Twitter’s app icon is a bird because the two are so similar they can’t both use the letter T (both blue, both blogging or microblogging sites, etc.). The equivalent would be UPS trying to switch to “F”. FedEx would have something to say about a choice that obvious even if they didn’t touch their colors. Twitter wouldn’t try.
So why X if not T? Easy – Musk owns X.com. That’s why they’re going to X.
Notably, Musk used to work at PayPal and tried the same thing there, but they parted ways before he could convince anybody. The times have changed, and the era where Musk worked at PayPal is very different from the era today. For example, Microsoft now owns copyrights around the letter X as it relates to communications and Threads/Meta have copyrights for X relating to software. Twitter is also now visible in many more places than PayPal is. PayPal only appears when money needs to change hands – Twitter is (or was) considered essential for businesses of any size, from the biggest shipping companies to the smallest boutique newsletters. Everyone knows of Twitter, and that would make rebranding incredibly difficult even if it wasn’t to a single letter.
Execution Gets Them Every Time
Firstly, the UI of the site is still coated in Twitter and Tweet terminology as of this article’s writing. That means it’s still Twitter. There just aren’t enough staff on hand to do one big update/rollout for their new X branding like they might have liked to, and as a result Twitter is still Twitter until users recognize X to be Twitter, which won’t be complete until everything says X. Making a big deal about the switch (so customers are less likely to become confused when something isn’t where it used to be) is only a part of the equation for success; another huge part of it is getting people to stop saying the old name. Hard to do when the microblog posts still go live as ‘tweets’.
Brands who feature ‘Find us on Twitter!’ notes on their packaging will have to switch over to the ‘X’. This alone may take weeks, both because the process of getting the new label on the packaging itself will take a while, and because the old packaging needs to cycle out at the grocery store. Websites using Twitter links will have to change their icons. Twitter has been a bird for so long that some of them might have forgotten how.
Elon owned X.com. That’s the easy part. But everywhere else, even if big names like Meta and Microsoft don’t pitch a fit over the copyright issues Twitter is creating for itself, and even on The Website Formerly Known As Twitter, X/Twitter’s branding is incomplete and rushed. The entire launch seems to be the result of an impulsive decision in a morning meeting. Twitter didn’t own the @X handle on Twitter before it made the switch. Someone else snatched it up immediately. The Japanese rock group X Japan had the X handle they would have used to stay in format with Twitter Japan, and so they just can’t use that handle for Japan.
What is X? Outside of a domain Elon has been sitting on forever. What is ‘an X’? X by itself means nothing. It’s an exit. It’s the top right of the screen when you want to leave. It’s the mark over treasures and mines on maps, but nothing itself except a marker. It’s the thing you replace when you first start learning algebra. It’s a cool letter, but maybe going with “Twitter X” would have been more comprehensible vs. what the site has going on now. What, tweets are now called X’s? They’re… exes? I’m no longer tweeting, I’m exing? Did you see that X that The Rock posted? I can’t believe some guy is leaving X. You know, X? Like the letter? It used to be Twitter.
There’s no meat on it, no associations to make with it, not a fanciful mark or a made-up word. It’s a letter. Just a single letter is expected to carry all the weight of a brand like Twitter.