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India’s Original Twitter Pioneer Reflects on Elon Musk’s Impact and the Future of the Platform

On October 28, 2022, Elon Musk took a notable plunge and acquired the struggling social media giant Twitter for a staggering USD 44 billion. Despite its significant user base, the platform was facing financial challenges, and Musk’s controversial methods to recoup his investment began almost immediately. His strategies have included massive layoffs and stringent work conditions for remaining employees, who are now expected to work 12-hour shifts without a day off. A particularly contentious move was his plan to charge users USD 8 per month for the ‘coveted’ blue verification tick, a proposal that garnered widespread criticism and has been partially retracted due to concerns over fake accounts obtaining the verification badge.

As of January 2022, Twitter boasted about 23.6 million users in India, a substantial number but one that contributes only a small fraction to its overall revenue. According to Statista, Twitter’s Indian subsidiary reported a revenue of Rs 86.39 crore in FY21, representing just 0.23 percent of its global earnings. Despite an 82 percent revenue jump to Rs 156.75 crore in FY22, Twitter India posted a net loss of Rs 31.84 crore. These financial metrics hint at the challenging road ahead for Musk’s Twitter in India.

Amidst the turmoil induced by Musk’s leadership, we sought insights from Naina Redhu, widely considered to be the first Twitter user in India. With a 16-year history on the platform, she offered a unique perspective on the dramatic changes and the future of Twitter under Musk’s guidance.

Reflecting on her early days with Twitter, Naina shared, “I signed up to the platform in 2006 when it was known as TWTTR. I was working in Mumbai and was fascinated by the emerging internet culture and blogging. I had already started my first blog in 2004, so Twitter seemed like a natural next step.” She reminisced about the nascent days of the platform, where interactions were confined mostly to a close-knit community located in Palo Alto, California.

Naina recounted her realization of being the first Twitter user from India. “Someone mentioned it to me, and when I checked the list of the first 140 people to sign up to Twitter, I couldn’t find a single Indian name. I blogged about it and the feedback from the online community confirmed it. It wasn’t an official determination, but a widely accepted one within the community.”

Commenting on the evolution of Twitter from 2006 to 2022, Naina highlighted several notable changes. The most impactful change, in her opinion, was the increase in character limit from 140 to 280 characters. “The essence of Twitter was its brevity. You had to be really concise. Now, it’s more like a blogging platform with extended threads,” she remarked.

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. She also fondly remembered the “Fail Whale,” an error message that appeared when the site crashed due to high traffic, symbolizing both the platform’s growing pains and the shared experiences of its early users.

Naina lamented the loss of Twitter’s community spirit. “We used to have ‘Tweet-Ups’ where people who had interacted online would meet in person. It felt like a genuine community. That sense has diminished over the years, replaced by more political and controversial discussions,” she observed.

Discussing Musk’s proposition to make the blue tick verification badge a paid feature, Naina expressed skepticism. “Initially, the blue tick was meant to verify real identities, which is crucial for public figures. The introduction of a fee complicates this. I need to see what additional value it offers before deciding if it’s worth paying for.” She also questioned the value proposition of Twitter Blue, the subscription service that purportedly offers features like fewer ads. “Personally, I’d rather see no ads if I’m paying,” she said.

Naina noticed a shift in Twitter’s approach to user feedback and feature experimentation, something she felt was more open in its early days. “Elon Musk is a polarizing figure, and his leadership style has been eclectic. While he’s experimenting with reforms, the ultimate impact remains uncertain. I’m curious to see how his changes pan out.”

Regarding the potential success of Musk’s subscription model in India, Naina was skeptical. “I wouldn’t subscribe. The value proposition of a blue tick for ordinary users like me is unclear. While I can’t delete my account given my historical association with Twitter, it doesn’t add enough value for me to justify a subscription fee.”

Naina also doubted that Musk’s strategy would prompt other social media platforms to adopt similar models. “Twitter’s ad algorithm needs significant improvement first. For instance, Instagram’s algorithm is much more refined and often shows useful ads, something Twitter struggles with.”

She concluded by reflecting on whether users might migrate to alternative platforms. “Despite trying other platforms like Koo and Mastodon, nothing matches Twitter’s unique offering and historic loyalty. Even if people don’t pay for the blue tick, they’re unlikely to leave Twitter. The platform has a massive user base, and unless something drastic happens under Musk’s leadership, this isn’t going to change.”

In a very real sense, Naina’s insights reveal the underlying tensions and potential future pathways for Twitter as it navigates through this turbulent phase under Musk’s management. This is undoubtedly a pivotal moment for the platform and its global user base, with many anxiously observing to see how the story unfolds.