Twitter may have gained immense popularity as a micro-blogging website but in India majority use it as a source for news.

A survey by technology site www.pluGGd.in says about 16 per cent of Indian users regularly ‘tweet’ to get news updates.

While 11 per cent use it to stay in touch with their friends, 10 per cent use the website for research purpose, according to the survey.

The social networking site, launched in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, came into prominence in the country during the 26/11 attacks when eyewitnesses sent an estimated 80 ‘tweets’ every five seconds, helping in compiling a list of the dead and injured.

Analysts attribute the recent surge in its popularity in India to the controversial ‘cattle class’ tweet by Union minister Shashi Tharoor, who is an active Twitter user with nearly 3 lakh followers, arguably the largest in the country.

With its growing popularity, the website is now giving a tough competition to other networking sites like Google’s Orkut and California-based Facebook, which was launched six years ago.

While Facebook has around 8 million users and Orkut has around 16 million, Twitter has 1.4 million users in India, the third largest after Germany and the US.

Twitter’s global membership has crossed the five-billion mark. Facebook, the leading networking site at present, has an estimated 300 million users across the world, while Orkut has only 51 million.

According to a Pew Internet and American Lifestyle study, almost one in every five US citizens use the free micro-blogging website that asks a simple question “What are you doing?”

“The key to its popularity lies with its ability to send and receive status updates via text messages, which sets it apart,” says Tejeswar Rao, IT consultant with Abu Dhabi-based software firm Vision Capital.

Priyanka Tripathi, an executive with an MNC, says, “Unlike Facebook, Twitter is very easy to access. One SMS can do the task.”

Says Rahul Saxena, a final year student of Delhi University, “Twitter is the best networking site because it can be used via mobiles,” adding that he joined the Twitters’ club during last year’s US presidential elections.

All the presidential candidates, including Barack Obama, took extensive help of this site during campaigning.

In April, public health departments used the website to provide updates on swine flu cases and in May, astronaut Mike Massimino used Twitter to send updates of the Hubble Space Telescope repair mission - the first time the site was used in space.

According to Mr. Rao, Twitter’s popularity is going to increase manifold.

“With Bharti Airtel considering a tie-up with Twitter, allowing the 100 million-odd of its subscribers to tweet without having to pay for an international SMS, it is going to be a huge success for the networking site.

“If the trend continues like this, Twitter would soon supersede other social networks,” he says.

Besides IT majors like Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys Technologies and many private banks are also on Twitter now.

“Even simple things like not having enough cash in an ATM get reported in tweets,” says Mahesh Murthy, founder and CEO of search engine marketing firm Pinstorm, which monitors hundreds of tweets or conversation a day for a private bank.

“It is extremely important to react at the earliest to such problems and the tweets give the bank ample opportunity to take quick action, remedy the situation, and preserve their brand image in the bargain,” he explains.