During a recent backpacking trip in Indian hinterland, one of the evenings as I watched TV placed in corner of tea shop in a small town, news of an acrimonious war of words between a famous Indian movie star and a political party was playing on. News channel was reporting what the star had to say on controversy, not through interview given to news agency or channel but through tweets on his twitter account. As the saga was unfolding on twitter the new channel was merely picking it up and broadcasting. Someone seated nearby exclaimed “Ye twitter kya cheej hai (what thing is this twitter)” . And this could have summarized what many people in India have wondered for past few months. Twitter has been in constant news. If it is not a political leader who is fast building a reputation of getting into trouble in parliament because of his tweets ,then it is news about what some Hindi movie star has posted on his/her twitter account. In a way it is ironical that mainstream media that had labeled twitter as flippant when it was gaining traction with geeky crowd and early adopters, is now doing more for twitter’s promotion.
Like elsewhere in world, twitter is rapidly growing in India in terms of number of users. Inflection point occurred after tragic Mumbai terror attack when traditional news media discovered how powerful and fast Twitter was in spreading information. For much of last year twitter’s growth has been on upswing thanks to quick adoption by news channels and traditional media. There is hardly any news channel now which has not integrated twitter as a feedback and live user commenting tool. But with recent events involving popular movie stars which have brought twitter itself to news headlines and front pages of newspapers, Twitter’s growth in India will perhaps go on a different trajectory. Hindi Cinema also sometime referred to as Bollywood is one of two major obsessions in India, other being wildly popular game of Cricket. And with movie stars, coming to Twitter in drove, a different segment of users is taking up to twitter. It is not then perhaps surprising that a news channel recently gave away Indian twitterer of year award to a movie producer and director who it claimed has got large chunk of movie folks and film fraternity onto twitter. Last year, Twitter itself hosted Mallika Sherawat, a Hindi film actress in its office and stated that she was instrumental in membership in India to skyrocket. It is easy to understand why stars and celebrities are adopting twitter as it helps them promote their movies, directly connect to fans and do PR without risk of being misquoted. And of course this is threatening existence of celebrity gossip magazines and paparazzi and is bringing hordes of fans to twitter if just out of curiosity.
It is worth to note that last year in October, Twitter had struck a deal with one of major Indian telecom companies , allowing its users to tweet through SMS on normal rates. It is significant because India has huge penetration of mobile phone users with almost 600 million mobile users as compared to just 50 million internet users. With mobile users projected to grow to 1200 million by 2015, India stands as a lucrative and expanding market for mobile twitter. Twitter CEO ,Evan Williams himself says that even though lots of twitter growth has come through web, their visions has been “to spread Twitter to the weakest connection in the world”, which in this part of world happens to be a no frill mobile phone. In a recent TV interview, transcripts of which can be found here, Evans also hints at possible ways of making money through twitter ads as lots of information shared is commercial in nature. He also notes how companies are using twitter to connect to their customers and possibility of making money out of analytics data which companies will be interested in buying. So, as twitter chalks out plans of making money out of its platform, many new users will keep flocking to twitter if only to check ….what thing is this twitter. And as we know, that warrants a long answer.