Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

2023: Bye bye birdy, hello chatbots

Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter defined much of the year for social media, including the rushed launch of its microblogging competitor, Meta's Threads. At the other end of the spectrum, we began conversing with increasingly intelligent and fascinating chatbots, which will likely change the way we use social media forever

Pankti Mehta Kadakia
Published: Dec 19, 2023 01:04:07 PM IST
Updated: Dec 19, 2023 01:20:59 PM IST

2023: Bye bye birdy, hello chatbotsElon Musk's takeover of Twitter defined much of the year for social media Image: Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In 2013 film Her, Joaquin Phoenix played a man who would fall in love with his digital assistant. Apple’s Siri had launched two years before that, and in 2014, we were introduced to Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. It wasn’t hard to imagine a future with devices to talk to.

As Alexa, Google and other assistants became more integrated into our lives, the tasks remained largely instructional. Then, in March 2023, seemingly out of nowhere, arrived OpenAI’s ChatGPT4. Here was a chatbot who was at once an assistant and a creator, a teacher and an artist. It could hold a conversation, change tones, understand and give context and, incredibly, use simple lines of text to generate photos and videos out of thin air. A highly dramatic saga featuring the firing and re-hiring of OpenAI founder Sam Altman followed in November, but that’s a story for another day.
While ChatGPT by itself is not a social network--the opposite perhaps—it lays the foundation of what social networking will look like in the coming years. For instance, in September, Meta released a suite of tools enabled with generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI) that would make anyone a creator. Still in Beta mode, it means that you can use text prompts to create your own stickers, edit images and interact with AI-enabled personalities with ‘unique interests and personalities’, some played by icons such as Snoop Dogg, Kendall Jenner and Naomi Osaka.
Elon Musk jumped on the AI bandwagon with a tool called ‘Grok’, which is thus far, purposed as a conversational AI bot like ChatGPT, but with a dose of snark. It’s a good symbol for what Elon Musk’s year has been like.
Since Musk took over Twitter in October 2022, it’s been a rollercoaster at the social network. We said goodbye to the iconic blue bird and the even more iconic name, Twitter, and made way for X. Musk also revealed that there would be a limit on the number of posts a non-paying user would be able to see in a day, and that they would not be able to block accounts, but could mute them.

Also listen: What's the future of Elon Musk's X aka Twitter, after a year of decline?

The essence of the blue tick changed: Originally meant to separate a true account from a parody or fake one, the blue tick now indicates a paying subscriber versus a non-paying one. This has led to a proliferation of misinformation on X, with little means to validate sources or claims. Advertisers pulled out of X, and received choice words from Musk in return.
Meanwhile, a literal and figurative cagefight brewed between two business rivals: Musk challenged Mark Zuckerburg to a physical cagefight, which Zuckerburg claims Musk never took on seriously. While that fizzled out, Zuckerburg’s Meta released Threads, a competitor for Twitter, to great fanfare and record sign-ups. The initial euphoria around Threads, however, quickly lost steam, as it missed crucial features such as Trending Topics and hashtags, versions of which are currently being tested. However, Threads chief Adam Mosseri has reiterated that Meta does not intend for it to be a platform for news, so as X nosedives, the public is still in search of their digital town square.  
Analysts say that Threads’s best days might still be ahead. “Doubling down on creators is vastly important to Meta, but, at the same time, news is of paramount importance,” Mike Proulx, vice president, Forrester, told Forbes India. “The number of teams that turn to social media as their primary news source is a staggering. Meta, through Threads, will have to find ways to embrace that--or re-embrace that, as they had attempted to on their other platforms earlier.”