Microblogging site turns five tomorrow

Five years ago, answering a simple question like ‘What are you doing?' in 140 characters seemed pointless, even impossible, back then when bloggers took pride over how detailed or nuanced their entries were.

When in 2009, the folks at Twitter changed the vital question that everybody was answering to ‘What's happening?' it indeed reflected a shift in how we perceived microblogging. From mundane updates on breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to a snappy tool — thanks to mobile phones — that allowed people to reflect on what's happening around them, Twitter has come a long way. On March 21, it will be five years since Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sent out the first tweet, a short and not-so-chirpy message: “inviting co-workers.”

Those who dismissed it as fad, were proven wrong last week when Twitter released the following statistics: in the past year, average tweets per day jumped from 50 million to 140 million (last month). Twitter continues to expand globally as a source of information, first-hand. So today, it continues to tell us what is happening around us, be it in the Middle East from where journalists and citizens continue to tweet live updates on the volatile situation, or closer home, where you can use your phone to track #wc11 even if you're nowhere near a TV or a computer.

But it wasn't until early 2008 that India warmed up to Twitter. Then, restricted to the technologically fluent ones, this curious medium where you had ‘followers' instead of ‘friends,' barely caught the fancy of the Orkut generation that had just graduated to Facebook. “Now what's this new-fangled thing?” asked many, dismissively; others simply found it all too bland.

And then came the celebrities. From the most media-shy Bollywood actors to cricketers, businessmen and politicians, they were all chirping on the Twitter. So we saw a tweeting Minister get into serious trouble, celebs fighting bitterly and ordinary citizens using the medium to express their angst against corporate media; everyone took this service, and carved their own functionality out of it.

Says Gautam John, an IP lawyer who goes by twitter handle @gkjohn: “What's nice is that it is a really easy and convenient way to follow not just news but also individuals from across multiple verticals of interest.” This nearly 3-year user feels the user base has changed. “When I first joined, discussions seemed to focus more around technology pivots but it's wonderful to see that there is so much more than just that — humour [Ramesh Srivats, for instance] or warmer personal anecdotes like from MumbaiCentral,” he explains.

Infamous tweet

Last year, when diplomat-turned-parliamentarian @ShashiTharoor courted controversy over his infamous ‘cattle-class' tweet, politicians sat up and took note. Today, all political parties, and many politicians, are on board. Sensing an opportunity to connect, many public agencies followed suit. India Post, for one, was among the first departments to hop on in 2009. Commenting on their experience, their candid blog entry reads: “While we discovered tremendous goodwill, we also realised there are many areas, where we fall below customer expectations.”

Interestingly, it proceeds to add that while Twitter has been rewarding, they feel a need for strengthening two-way communication through “longer and more meaningful discussions.” For this, they're setting up, they announced, a blog. Coming full circle now, are we?