Who's on twitter and what are they upto

Short, sharp and straight to the point. For opinion makers in India, twitter.com is fast becoming the place to be, writes Kushalrani Gulab. Read on to find out who's on twitter and what are they upto.

| Updated on: Oct 21 2009, 16:24 IST

RT: Feedback to NDTV.com - 'Mahatma Gandhi believed in the pen being mightier than the sword...' I am sure he didn't mean Mont Blanc — Vikram Chandra, CEO, NDTV Networks, anchor of Big Fight and other shows on NDTV, on his page at twitter.com

Given the controversy about luxury brand Mont Blanc's limited edition Mahatma Gandhi pens, Vikram Chandra's statement above is fun. Tweeted just 33 minutes before this story was written for Brunch, it hadn't inspired any visible reactions as yet, but there seemed little doubt that it would. After all, NDTV's Vikram Chandra is one of the more popular users of twitter.com in India. His name pops up every now and then on sites that track popular tweeters in India. And once - he tells you with great pride - he even hit the dizzying heights of the top of the list at twitterank.com, a site that tracks how interesting and engaging any user of Twitter is. Quite an achievement for someone who only started using Twitter a month or so ago.

"I was the No. 1 tweeter in the world for a couple of hours," Chandra, laughing because this is not exactly an earth-shaking achievement, but prepared nonetheless to make the most of this feat. "And I'm very proud of it because I'll never be No. 1 in the world in anything, ever. This will be something to tell my grandchildren."

Child's play?
Chances are that by the time Chandra has grandchildren, Twitter will have long gone. Right now however, the social networking and micro-blogging site is just about taking off in India, though it actually hit the Internet in 2006.

Statistics for the number of Twitter users in India are hard to come by, and in fact, because the growth in the use of the site is so dynamic, by the time any survey is conducted, it's already out of date. But according to web metrics firm Alexa, 7.8 per cent of Twitter users come from India, making us the No. 3 user of Twitter in the world after the US and Germany, and according to Google Insight for Search, our interest in the site has grown steadily in 2009. Meanwhile, international market research company ComScore Inc, which specialises in businesses on the Internet, says that men in the age group of 15-24 are the ones who make the maximum use of Twitter in India.

The last statement seems familiar. Worldwide, it's usually young people who leap enthusiastically into anything new. And if that new thing is tech-related, young men tend to be more excited about it than young women. These are generalisations of course, but that's the way of all statistics…except that, like all generalisations, this particular one is about to be - well, not busted exactly, but battered just a bit.

Young men aged between 15 and 24 may well make the maximum use of Twitter in India. But they're not the ones who make the maximum impact on Twitter. Impact tends to be made by men and women in their 30s and over - those regarded as opinion makers, such as people in the media, politics and academia. That is, if you're making an impact on Twitter, you're probably someone who has hundreds of people interested in what you think and say - which means you are highly unlikely to be aged 15. (Unless you are a sportsperson or in films, in which case age is no bar.) Forty-ish and over is more like it.

"There is nothing juvenile about Twitter," says Hermanprit Singh, Inspector General of Police, Headquarters, West Bengal Police Directorate, an avid tweeter. "On the contrary, it's a mature person's domain. For instance, there are no birthday reminders or heartbreak columns as there are on Facebook. I think more young people are on social networking sites like Orkut and Facebook or chat."

Say, what?
For all that they're popular among all age groups in India, the emphasis that social networking sites like Facebook place on, well, networking, sometimes makes them too much for people to handle. Twitter, where the emphasis is on saying something briefly and reacting to what other people are saying, is simpler. Singh had signed up on Facebook, "but didn't find it too meaningful", and media person and film producer Pritish Nandy feels the same.

"I entered Twitter and knew it was my space," says Nandy. "Just as I entered Facebook and knew it was not for me. I hate being crowded in. I enjoy space, freedom, choice. Twitter gives me all three and more. It gives me friends I don't even have to meet. Can you imagine a greater luxury?"

Nandy signed up at Twitter two months ago, interested by the role the site had played in Iranian politics during the elections (it was used to great effect as a medium of protest). "I had also read about it in many other contexts, not just political but also in the social and gender space," he says. "My friends in the animal and environment movement speak about it. So do gays and others fighting for what you may like to call non-mainstream causes, causes that do not get adequate mention or support in the mainstream media. Most media today is so compromised that they've become boring. Twitter sounded fresh, exciting, fun."

And it can be fun - provided you know what to do with it, and how you want to use it. Many people - people who could have followers hanging on to their every word - have signed up on Twitter, but have actually tweeted very little or even not at all (social activist Nafisa Ali and human resources minister Kapil Sibal, with exactly one tweet each on their Twitter page, come to mind). That's because, as Singh thinks, "Twitter actually challenges you to think meaningfully and react responsibly. People quit because it's not game-play or social networking, which is in vogue."

Singh himself signed up on Twitter primarily to follow others. His brother suggested that he might enjoy receiving tweets from opinion makers like Pritish Nandy, Brahma Chellaney and other people in the worlds of news and academia. Now, three months later, Singh, former UN Commissioner for Operations for Timor Leste, is a happy tweeter himself, focusing on subjects like rule of law (in which he is a specialist) and other, more personal observations, such as those about Kolkata and Bengal, where he is now posted.

"I'm conscious that as a government representative, I should not pull a Tharoor," Singh says, referring to Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for external affairs, whose tweet referring to airline economy class as cattle class caused an uproar a few weeks ago. "On the other hand, I am not a politician, so I don't have to bother about what people will make of the things I say."

Brief case
Twitter was named Twitter, according to its founder Jack Dorsey, because the company wanted to capture the feeling of buzzing the world. The definition of 'twitter' in the dictionary read: "a short burst of inconsequential information" and "chirps from birds" - which seemed perfect for a site that was based on the idea of a person using a service that would distribute his or her SMS-type message - called a 'tweet' - to a group.

And when Twitter began to function, it was a happy communicator of "inconsequential information". Inconsequential information continues to be tweeted left, right and centre - Pritish Nandy, for instance, tweets about anything that comes to mind. "Politics. Poetry. Music. Movies. Dirty dancing. Art. Philosophy. You name it and we are discussing it," he says, while tweeters like actress Priyanka Chopra and Gul Panag are happy sharing moments of their day-to-day lives. ("The dubbing studio is freezing!! Forgot my sweater:(" Panag sadly tweeted recently).

But as opinion makers have discovered, the short message comprising 140 characters or less, is an extremely effective way to communicate matters of consequence as well. Particularly because it's short.

"I use Twitter to share my thoughts with others and know what others are thinking," says Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi, one of the country's best known strategic thinkers, and no stranger to commenting and blogging. "Twitter is a great forum to express one's opinion succinctly. It forces you to come to the point - no beating around the bush as many Indians love to do. I think the 140-character limit is a boon."

Chellaney's tweets usually comprise links to his latest columns published outside the country, and links with brief descriptions to interesting articles in the world's media on India-related affairs - all admirably precise.

But he isn't the only one enamoured of the possibilities of a form of writing that comprises 140 characters or less. Singh loves it because, he says, tweets allow him to get into the minds of the people whose opinions he values without having to read lengthy articles by them - and also helps him be economical with words himself. "But there's a first time for everything," he laughs. "My first tweet was 100 words and I had to send it in a cluster of three or four tweets one after the other. I've got better at it now. Brevity doesn't come easily."

"It's almost like haiku," muses Bina Sarkar Ellias, editor of the art magazine Gallerie, and occasional tweeter. "How amazing to compress your thoughts, produce the essence of your thinking, and share it. It challenges your ability to be efficient in your thought process."

Follow me
Ellias, who has just turned 60 and tweets on art-related matters or issues that demand a reaction, was forced by a friend to get on Twitter a few months ago. "I'm a very paranoid person," she says. "I am intimidated by the thought of all the strangers I'd have to interact with, but at this point in my life, I want to keep pace and fly with what is happening now. I enjoy the new innovations, and though I still don't understand the whole mechanics of it, I see I have many followers."

Though Ellias tweets, she doesn't often respond to people who reply to her tweets - and that's where Pritish Nandy feels he scores. "On Twitter, I answer people to the best of my ability and have a huge interactive family of followers who ask me hundreds of questions every day," he says. "I try and respond or react to most of them. In fact, that is what bonds them to me, the fact that I genuinely interact with most people, including people who disagree with me."

It's easy for people in the media (not to mention celebrities) to acquire followers, says Vikram Chandra who went, as he says, from 0 to 2,000 in a month. It's because media people are generally well known. This works out great for Chandra, though, because he got on to Twitter because of his job. As CEO of NDTV Convergence, Chandra needs to know how Twitter functions. In the month he's actually used it, he's become a pro.

"A lot of the comments and questions I get from Twitter users are very helpful," says Chandra. "I was hosting a show on Naxalites and sent a tweet asking people what they thought of them. There were hundreds of replies, many with ideas I may or may not have thought of myself. I used a lot of them on the show."

Acquiring followers is one thing, choosing whom to follow is another, says Chellaney. "I first decided to follow certain news organisations as well as a couple of friends at CNN in Atlanta to stay abreast with developments," he says. "Then I looked for thoughtful tweeters. Frankly, I had to un-follow some tweeters either because they were flippant or had the habit of posting an excessive number of non-serious tweets that clogged my twitter page."

So much for "short bursts of inconsequential information".

Tweet anywhere anytime
The real power of Twitter is tweeting on the move. Here's a look at the most popular Twitter applications for your desktop and mobile...

TweetDeck: TweetDeck is a favourite with users of Twitter. It shows all your tweets, Direct Messages, replies and Mentions in 4 handy columns on your desktop. It also provides the ability to tweet, retweet and mark favourite tweets at a click. You can search your Twitter stream too. www.tweetdeck.com

Blu: Blu is perhaps the best looking Twitter client for Windows. It sports a shiny, translucent interface and smooth animations. Ideal for Twitter novices or those looking for pretty software www.thirteen23.com/experiences/desktop/blu

SMS: This is the easiest way to tweet from your cell phone. Simply register your mobile number on the Twitter website and you're good to go. To tweet, send an SMS to a certain number you will be provided with. Be aware though that you may be charged premium rates for these messages. If you have a GPRS data plan enabled on your phone, you can install any of these Twitter clients on your mobile to tweet for free:

Echofon: Echofon is one of the fastest and easiest Twitter clients for the iPhone and the iPod Touch. It shows new tweets in blue and provides easy access to replies and Direct Messages. There's also a search screen that can search for people and show trends - the most popular topics on Twitter at any given moment. The killer feature? You can display tweets from people nearby - you can even specify a mile radius if you want to! www.echofon.com

UberTwitter: UberTwitter provides all the basic functionality expected of any Twitter client for the Blackberry. But what makes it shine is the ability to instantly post pictures to Twitter directly from your Blackberry at the touch of a button. www.ubertwitter.com

Tinytwitter: Don't have a smartphone but still want to tweet? Fear not! Tinytwitter will work on any JAVA supported mobile phone (all modern phones support JAVA). There is not much you can do except tweet and reply, but at least you don't need a fancy phone to use it! www.tinytwitter.com
— Pranav Dixit


At 1:46 pm IST, on October 6, followers of twitter.com/epicretold found that the action had got hotter. Bhima the Pandava and Duryodhana the Kaurava - cousins who hate each other with a passion - finally met at a contest with maces.

This was the last tweet on the subject just before Brunch went to press. We were dying to know what happened next but, well, Dr Chindu Sreedharan, lecturer in journalism and communication at the Media School, Bournemouth University, and the man behind the Twitter version of the Mahabharat, was probably too busy to continue tweeting the story. So we were left to hang in there, while we wondered…why the Mahabharat, why Twitter?

Mahabharat on Twitter?
"Twitter on Mahabharat brings together a few of my academic and professional interests," says Sreedharan, who used to work at the news portal rediff.com. "I am interested in 'storytelling', mainly creative non-fiction or literary journalism which borrows the tools of fiction; I have a keen interest in conflict narratives; and having worked online for a long time, I am much fascinated by the web and what it spawns. Epicretold brought all these aspects together."

For Sreedharan, Epicretold is an experiment. No one knows yet what the reaction would be to an epic presented in bite-sized episodes. As of now, the feedback has been good, but what will happen as his tweets continue?

"The first thing is to realise that this is non-traditional media, and the way people make use of it is NOT the way you and I, who grew up on traditional content delivered the traditional way, do," says Sreedharan. "The thing about social media is its flexibility - people use it in ways that are unorthodox, in ways that suit them. I suspect their enjoyment, their attitude towards what content should be, etc., is all shaped by that. I don't have the answers, so I prefer to find out by trial."


Shashi Tharoor, Minister of state for external affairs
Followers: 287,818
Latest tweet at time of going to press: Warm discussions w PM of Bahrain,followed by solid mtgs w 3 successive Ministers: Trade & Industry, Social Development, Labour. Gd outcomes

Mallika Sherawat, Actress
Followers: 20,381
Latest tweet at time of going to press: On my way2 Agra:) My 1st trip bck 2India ina longtime:-(M happy I'm travelin around a lot n seein lots of U lovely twppl:) What a Breeze;-)

Gul Panag, actress and model
Followers: 21,582
Latest tweet at time of going to press: The dubbing studio is freezing!! Forgot my sweater:(

Priyanka Chopra, Actress
Followers: 66,323
Latest tweet at time of going to press: On my way to Delhi..Rainy weather..Scary to fly like this..Will meet my best friend after a while so excited! Yay!

Chetan Bhagat, Author
Followers: 12,553
Latest tweet at time of going to press: funny how the indian railways engine drivers running 2day routes never go on strike, but airline pilots continue to.

BARKHA Dutt, Editor/Anchor/Journalist, NDTV
Followers: 21,331
Latest tweet at time of going to press: just landed in mumbai after a massively delayed flight. Here to interview Uddhav Thackeray for Buck Stops. Long day ahead. Sleep deprived!

Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor in chief, IBN Network
Followers: 6,995
Latest tweet at time of going to press: ok guys, signing off from twitter for the morning. monday morning blues beckon, keep writing in your thoughts.

Karan Johar, Filmmaker
Followers: 25,337
Latest tweet at time of going to press: flight delayed drastically!! hope i dont miss my connection!!!

Sonam Kapoor, Actress
Followers: 18,518
Latest tweet at time of going to press: Coincidences is gods way of retaining his anonymity- albert Einstein.

Imran Khan, Actor
Followers: 15,079
Latest tweet at time of going to press: Oh, completely forgot to tell you guys! Met a guy from Microsoft, and they're sending me a bunch of XBOX360 games! Reviews shall follow.

Vikram Chandra, NDTV journalist
Latest tweet at time of going to press: There was a time when having some sympathy for the Naxal cause showed you had a heart
Followers: 2,526

Pritish Nandy Media person
Latest tweet at time of going to press: Watched Rachel Getting Married on Katrina Kaif's suggestion the other evening. Get a DVD n see if you like it.
Followers: 5,995

Brahma Chellaney
Professor of Strategic Studies
Latest tweet at time of going to press: Growing US footprint in Pakistan "aggravating an already volatile anti-US mood" there and "fueling a sense of occupation"
Followers: 843

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First Published Date: 10 Oct, 18:04 IST
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