TBEN Exclusive: India’s first Twitter user on her 16-year Twitter journey and Elon Musk’s ‘adventures’


TBEN Exclusive: India’s first Twitter user on her 16-year Twitter journey and Elon Musk’s ‘adventures’

On October 28, 2022, Elon Musk acquired an unprofitable company for $44 million, and it now appears that he is making every desperate attempt to hijack his losses. His plan of action not only included massive layoffs and hard dictations for workers (12 hours per day shift, no rest day), but also the intention to make the ‘coveted’ blue tick affordable at USD 8 per month (about Rs 650 per month).

While the second step appears to have been scrapped in the wake of the storm of fake handles that received the “Verified” badge, industry experts believe Musk’s “stunts” could let the social media giant down.

According to Statista, Twitter has about 23.6 million users (as of January 2022) in India. However, India is reportedly responsible for only a small percentage of Twitter’s revenue. Twitter’s registered entity in India recorded Rs 86.39 crore as revenue in FY21. But this was only 0.23 percent of global sales. In FY22, although sales rose about 82 percent to Rs 156.75 crore, the Indian entity posted a net loss of Rs 31.84 crore for FY22.

Amid all the chaos surrounding Twitter and its owner Musk that makes headlines almost every day, we thought about discussing this fiasco with someone long associated with Twitter and had the chance to have a detailed discussion with Naina Redhu, arguably the first Twitter user in India. Naina spoke at length about her 16-year journey on Twitter and how she sees the major revamp Elon Musk usually brings to the social media platform.

Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

Since when are you on the platform? How did you end up on the platform?

I signed up to the platform in 2006 when it was still called TWTTR. I had a job in Mumbai and was very interested in the rise of the internet and blogging, at least abroad, not in India. I started my first blog in 2004, so I was quite involved in the things that were happening online.

How was your experience then?

I seem to remember very clearly that I had registered and I was very curious what was going on. I saw that there were a few people who were writing lyrics on the screen and they were talking as if they already knew each other. I noticed they were all based in Palo Alto, California and they all planned to meet up for a coffee or a pizza. And I just hoped there was someone in Bombay I could say that to. But there was no one else. I thought maybe the platform is only for the US audience and not for anyone in India.

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Is that how you found out you were the first Twitter user?

Someone told me that ‘I think you are the first Twitter user from India’. They then pointed me to an article that said “The first 140 people to sign up on Twitter” and when I checked it I couldn’t find a single Indian or Indian sounding name on that list. I thought this could be true. I then wrote an article on my blog ‘Am I the first Indian Twitter user?’ Many people responded by saying that they cannot find another Indian user. No one has really dug deep, but it is widely believed that I am the first Twitter user from India.

What are the drastic changes you noticed from 2006 to 2022?

One of these, of course, was the character limit change. From 140 to 280 characters, which I think took away the essence of Twitter, because at 140 characters, I tried really hard to compress what I was talking about into 140 characters. But with the 280 characters and the whole ‘thread system’ it has become a kind of blog.

One thing I miss is the ‘Fail Whale’ where a blue colored whale popped up when the platform was to crash as they might not be able to meet the demand from the users around the world. The ‘Fail Whale’ is gone which is great for Twitter and the services they provide, but I miss it because every now and then we would go like ‘Oh yeah, even I saw a Fail Whale. Did you see it?’

But the community aspect of Twitter has been lost. And I haven’t seen it come back. I remember going for ‘Tweet-Ups’ for anyone on Twitter who would have met or chatted, we would go to a restaurant, meet them, chat, eat and get to know the person in real life. I don’t think anyone would ever do that, at least on Twitter. The platform was much more learning, talking to new people, learning about new things etc.

The platform has become a lot more political and a lot more controversial topics are discussed, which isn’t really a bad thing, but I do feel that the personal touch in the smaller community aspect has definitely gone, which I miss.

After the acquisition of Elon Musk, there have been a lot of changes to the platform. The company recently planned to levy a subscription fee for the verification badge. Do you think people are willing to pay for the blue tick?

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I’m not clear about it yet because I saw that screenshots were shared with 2 badges. One was the blue check mark and the other was the ‘official’ tag. I think they are still trying to decide what to do with the blue check mark because the verification sign has always been there to determine or verify that this is the real person in real life who is also on Twitter. They are trying to change that, but I’m not sure what it will mean yet.

The $8 bucks was initially for a Twitter Blue subscription, where you could see fewer ads and a ton of other features. But why should I pay money to see fewer ads? If you’re taking money, don’t say ads. Although I don’t use Twitter much anymore.

Elon Musk had tweeted that they are experimenting different things on the platform and will see what works and what doesn’t. Was it the same before?

That’s what I loved about twitter. That’s how it used to be. In the early days when it started to pick up a lot was happening and we would give feedback to Twitter and they would respond saying they were trying things out. I know Elon is a very polarizing figure. There are people who love him and some who absolutely hate him and there is no middle ground. But I think he’s trying something and I’m really excited to see what happens and where it goes. The blue check mark has represented something so far, but we don’t know it now. It can change, it cannot change.

Twitter Blue would roll out the “edit” button. But with the acquisition of Elon Musk, things may change.

Right, we don’t have much clarity about what might happen. And honestly, I’ve survived Twitter for 16 years without the “edit” button, I’m not going to pay for it.

We pay subscription fees to many platforms, such as Netflix, and in return we can watch movies. What about Twitter? Do you think the USD 8 per month fee will be worth it?

No. I don’t know, honestly. I really need to know what the blue checkmark would mean in the future. And if it adds value, yes, sure. The value it has added so far is that people know it’s me they’re talking to, it’s me they’re interacting with. I don’t think the blue checkmark adds value in any way. Again, I should really see where it goes and what they plan to do, to be honest.

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Even if we don’t have verified accounts, the normal accounts still add value to a platform like twitter.

Don’t you think the blue checkmark helps us distinguish between the parody/fake accounts and the real/verified accounts?

If it’s a political figure, I think it’s important that they have a blue check mark to say that this is in fact the real person. I don’t have the same problems as Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi. And I’m sure politicians have deep pockets and paying that $8 bucks wouldn’t be for them.

Do you think the subscription plan would be successful in India as the subscription only provides verification badge?

I will not subscribe. I can’t say for anyone else in India but I wouldn’t take the plan. For example, the reason I have a Spotify premium account is because I don’t want to listen to ads. I have twitter and I can’t really delete my account because I’m the first user, but paying Twitter the money wouldn’t add value to my life so I don’t see why I should subscribe to anything on Twitter.

Don’t you think if Twitter picks up on this, other platforms can start their own subscription to a ‘no-ad’ policy?

No, I do not think so. What other platforms are there anyway? When you talk about Instagram, it’s really hard to decipher whether it’s an ad, a paid promotion, or just a page I already follow. There are some ads that are really helpful and that I like a lot. Instagram’s ad algorithm is very fast and picks up on what you’re looking for, but that’s not the case with Twitter. Twitter really needs to work on its advertising algorithm.

Do you think people are migrating to other platforms like Koo or Mastodon?

I’ve heard of many platforms and tried them, but they can’t compete with what twitter has to offer, the loyalty that Twitter has had. They were the first platform to do what they did and it took off for them. So I don’t think anyone can compete with Twitter. Even if people don’t pay the $8 in the end, they’ll continue to use the free account but won’t migrate to another platform. Twitter has the public and large population on it. Unless there’s a mass exodus and Elon Musk really messes up, it’s not going to change. Everyone wants to be where everyone is.

This is most people have talked about Twitter on Twitter. I’m very excited about what Musk plans to do with the platform.

Watch the full interview here: