DNA Exclusive: India's first Twitter user on her 16-year Twitter journey and Elon Musk's 'adventures'

Naina spoke at length on her 16-year journey on the platform, and how she sees the major revamp that Musk tends to bring to the social media giant.

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 DNA 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 at USD 44 million, and it now seems that he is making every desperate attempt to coup his losses. His plan of action not only included massive layoffs and harsh diktat for employees (12 hours a day shift, no rest day), but also an intent to make the ‘highly coveted’ blue tick payable at USD 8 per month (approx. Rs 650 per month). 

    While the second move seems to have been scrubbed in wake of the storm of fake handles getting the ‘Verified’ badge, industry experts believe that Musk’s ‘stunts’ might leave the social media giant in the lurch. 

    According to Statista, Twitter has about 23.6 million users (as of January 2022) in India. However, India reportedly accounts only for a small percentage of Twitter’s revenue. The registered entity of Twitter in India recorded Rs 86.39 crore as revenue in FY21. But this was just 0.23 percent of the global revenue. In FY22, though its revenue jumped by about 82 percent, to Rs 156.75 crore, the India entity posted a net loss of Rs 31.84 crore for FY22. 

    Amid all the chaos around Twitter and its owner Musk making headlines almost every day, we thought of discussing this fiasco with someone who has been long associated with Twitter and got the opportunity to have a detailed discussion with Naina Redhu, arguably the first Twitter user in India. Naina spoke at length on her 16-year journey on Twitter and how she sees the major revamp that Elon Musk tends to bring to the social media platform. 

    Here are the edited excerpts of the interview:      

    Since when have you been on the platform? How did you end up signing onto the platform? 

    I signed up to the platform in 2006, back when it was called TWTTR. I had a job in Mumbai and I was very interested in the way the internet was coming up and blogging was a thing, at least abroad, not in India. I started my first blog in 2004 so I was quite involved with the things that were happening online. 
    How was your experience back then?  

    Back then, I think I remember very clearly that I signed on and I was very curious to know what was happening. I saw that there were a few people who were writing texts on the screen and they were talking as if they already knew each other. I noticed that all of them were located in Palo Alto, California and they were all planning to meet up for a coffee or a pizza. And I was just hoping that there was somebody in Bombay that I could say that to. But there was no one else. I thought that maybe the platform is only for the US audience and it wasn’t meant for someone in India.  

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

    Someone told me that ‘I think you might be the first twitter user from India.’ They then pointed me to an article that said ‘The first 140 people to sign up to Twitter’ and when I checked it out I couldn’t find a single Indian or an India-sounding name on that list. I thought that this could be true. I then wrote an article on my blog ‘Am I the first Indian Twitter user?’ A lot of people responded by saying that they cannot find any other Indian user. No one really dug deep but its commonly thought that I am the first Twitter user from India.  

    What have been the drastic changes that you have noticed from 2006 to 2022?  

    One was of course the character limit change. From 140 to 280 characters which I think took away the essence of Twitter because with 140 characters, what I used to do was try really hard to compress what I was talking about in 140 characters. But with the 280 characters and the whole ‘thread-system’, it has become like a blog. 

    One thing that I miss is the ‘Fail Whale’ where a blue color whale popped up when the platform would crash because, maybe, they could not keep up with the demand of the users all over the world. The ‘Fail Whale’ has gone which is great for Twitter and the services that they provide but I miss it because once in a while, 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 coming back. I remember going for ‘Tweet-Ups’ for everyone who is on Twitter who would've met or chatted, we would go to a restaurant, meet them, chat, have food and actually get to know the person in real life. I don’t think anyone would ever do that, on Twitter at least. The platform was a lot more of learning, talking to new people, learning about new things etc.  

    The platform has become a lot more politics, and a lot more controversial topics are talked about which is not really a bad thing but I do feel that the personal touch in the smaller community aspect has definitely gone which I miss.   

    After Elon musk’s takeover, there have been a bunch of changes on the platform. The company was recently planning to impose subscription fee for the verification badge. Do you think people would be willing to pay for the blue tick? 

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

    The USD 8 dollars initially was for Twitter Blue subscription where you could see lesser ads and there were a bunch of other features. But why would I pay money to see lesser ads? If taking money, then say no ads. Although I don’t use Twitter as much anymore.  

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

    That’s what I loved about twitter. That’s what it used to be. In the early days when it had started picking up, there was a lot of stuff happening and we would give feedback to Twitter and they would respond by saying that they are trying out stuff. I know that Elon is a very polarising figure. There are some people who love him and some who absolutely hate him and there is no middle ground. But I think that he is trying something and I am really excited to see what happens and where it goes. The blue tick has represented something till now but we don’t know about now. It might change, it might not change.  

    Twitter Blue was going to roll out the ‘edit’ button. But with Elon Musk’s takeover, things might change.  

    Right, we don’t have much clarity over what might happen. And honestly, I have survived Twitter without the ‘edit’ button for 16 years, I am not going to pay for it.  

    We pay a subscription fee to a lot of platforms like, say, Netflix and we get to watch movies in return. What about Twitter? Do you think that the USD 8 per month fee will be worth it? 

    No. I don’t know, honestly. I really need to know what the blue tick would mean in the future. And if it is adding value, then, yeah, sure. The value it has added so far is that people know that it’s actually me that they're talking to, it’s me who they’re getting in touch with. I don’t think that the blue tick adds value to me in any way. Again, I would really need to see where it's going and what they're planning to do, to be honest.  

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

    Don’t you think that the blue tick helps us differentiate between the parody/fake accounts from the actual/verified accounts?  

    If it’s a political figure, I think it's important for them to have a blue tick to say that this is in fact the real person. I don’t face the same issues that Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi would face. And I'm sure that politicians have deep pockets and paying those $8 dollars would be nothing for them.  

    Do you think that the subscription plan would be successful in India, given that all the plan provides is a verification badge?  

    I will not subscribe. I cannot say for anyone else in India but I wouldn’t take the plan. The reason I have, say, 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 since I am the first user but paying Twitter the money wouldn’t add any value to my life so I don’t see why I would subscribe to anything on Twitter.  

    Don’t you think that if Twitter takes this up, other platforms might start their own subscription plan for a ‘no-ad’ policy? 

    No, I don’t think so. What other platforms are there, really? If you talk about Instagram, it's really hard to decipher if it's an ad, a paid promotion, or just some page that I already follow. There are some ads that are actually useful and I really like. Instagram’s ad algorithm is really quick and picks up what you’re looking for but that’s not the case with Twitter. Twitter really needs to work on its ad algorithm.   

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

    I have heard of a lot of platforms and have 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 think no one can compete with Twitter. Even if people don’t end up paying the $8, they will continue using the free account but they're not migrating to another platform. Twitter has the audience and the major population on it. Unless there is a mass exodus and Elon Musk really messes it up, I don’t it's going to change. Everybody wants to be where everyone else is.  

    This is the most people have spoken about Twitter on Twitter. I'm really excited with what Musk plans to do with the platform.  

    Watch the full interview here:

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