For more than 10 years, Twitter has been known for its blue and white bird logo, which has become a symbol of the unique culture and lexicon of the social network. “tweet” has become a verb. A “tweet” refers to a post. “Tweeps” has become a moniker for Twitter employees.
On Sunday, Elon Musk started taking it all down.
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 San Francisco headquarters on Monday, X logos were displayed in the cafeteria, while conference rooms were renamed with words with X in them, including “eXposure,” “eXult” and “s3Xy,” according to photos seen by The New York Times. Workers also began removing bird-related paraphernalia, such as a giant blue logo in the cafeteria. Outside the building, workers removed the first six letters of Twitter’s name before the San Francisco Police Department stopped them for performing “unauthorized work,” according to an alert sent by the department.
Mr. Musk has long said he might change the name, but he has accelerated the process a tweet early Sunday when he announced that “we are about to say goodbye to the twitter brand and, little by little, to all the birds.” He said he hopes to turn Twitter into an “everything app” called X, covering not only social networking but also banking and shopping.
Earlier on Monday, Mr. Musk too shared a photo of a giant X projected onto Twitter’s San Francisco office building with the caption: “Our headquarters tonight.”
The moves – which are ongoing – are the most visible changes Mr. Musk on Twitter since he closed the deal to buy the company in October. Behind the scenes, he took a number of steps to overhaul the firm, lay off thousands of employees and change the platform’s features, including badges meant to verify users, as well as rules governing what can and cannot be said on the service.
But the name and logo changes are impossible to ignore. By starting to remove the Twitter name, Mr. Musk is an entrenched brand that has been around since 2006 – when the company was founded – and has delighted and disappointed celebrities, politicians, athletes and other users in equal measure. Twitter introduced its blue bird mascot in 2010 and updated it two years later.
Many Twitter users, who spent years tweeting and building their presence on the site, appeared alienated by the shift. “Has everyone seen the (eXecrable) new logo?” the actor Mark Hamill tweeted on Monday, with the hashtag #ByeByeBirdie. Others saw the move as the latest blow by Mr. Musk on the site, with some die-hards saying they’ll still call the site Twitter and continue to “tweet.”
When brands become verbs, it’s the “holy grail,” says Mike Proulx, a 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 all kinds of ways,” he said. “In one sweep, Elon Musk has essentially removed 15 years of brand value from Twitter and is now essentially starting from scratch.”
Mr. Musk risked the wrath of Twitter users even though he couldn’t bring himself to anger them. His company has faced financial problems and increased competition, with rival Meta releasing an app this month for real-time, public conversations called Threads. The new app quickly gained 100 million downloads in less than a week, even as the app’s use came under scrutiny.
Mike Carr, a co-founder of the branding company NameStormers, said that the X logo of Mr. Musk can be interpreted as having an intimidating “Big Brother” tech overlord vibe. Unlike the blue bird, which he described as warm and cuddly but perhaps a bit dated and weighed down by bad press, the new logo is “very harsh,” he said.
However, it conjured up phrases like “X marks the spot” and might help Mr. Musk to differentiate the platform from its Twitter baggage, said Mr. Carr.
“If they get it wrong and it’s anyone other than Elon Musk, he’s at a higher risk because people might start laughing at it,” Mr. Carr, who helped develop names for thousands of clients, 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 it merged with another start-up to form what would become PayPal.
In 2017, Mr. Musk said he bought back the X.com domain from PayPal. “There are no plans at the moment, but it has a lot of sentimental value to me,” he tweeted at that time.
Tesla, the electric automaker of Mr. Musk, also has a sport utility vehicle called the Model X. One of the sons of Mr. Musk, X Æ A-12 Musk, is often called X for short. The holding company created to close the Twitter acquisition is named X Holdings. Mr. also leads Musk to an artificial intelligence company called xAI.
“I like the letter X,” he posted On Sunday.
Mr. Musk has shown disdain for Twitter’s former corporate culture. He 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 to “Community Notes” from “Birdwatch.” He also recently covered the w on behalf of Twitter at its headquarters in San Francisco.
Among those seemingly unfazed by the change is Jack Dorsey, a Twitter founder and former chief executive. He said in a tweet on Monday that while a rebrand was not “critical” to achieving Mr. Musk, there is an argument for this.
“The Twitter brand carries a lot of baggage,” Mr. Dorsey wrote. “But all that matters is the utility it provides, not the name.”
Martin Grasser, a San Francisco artist at the time part of a group in 2011 who helped design Twitter’s latest bird logo, said it intended to convey “simplicity, brevity and clarity.” The goal is to have a logo as memorable as Apple or Nike, he said.
Mr. Grasser said that Mr. Musk can do whatever he wants with the brand, but “Hopefully the bird occupies a space in the culture that is a happy memory or becomes one of those logos that belongs to a culture instead of a company.”