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Inside the Changes at Twitter: A 16-Year Journey Through the Lens of India’s First Twitter User

On October 28, 2022, Elon Musk acquired Twitter, an unprofitable company, for a staggering USD 44 billion. This acquisition marked the beginning of a series of drastic measures as Musk aimed to recoup the financial losses from his monumental investment. His strategy involved major personnel shakeups, including large-scale layoffs and grueling new work expectations for remaining employees, with shifts extending to 12 hours a day and no rest days. Additionally, Musk introduced a contentious plan to charge users USD 8 per month for the “highly coveted” blue tick verification badge.

The blue tick initiative faced backlash, largely due to a proliferation of fake accounts acquiring the “Verified” badge, which led to confusion. Experts in the social media industry have raised concerns that Musk’s aggressive changes might destabilize the platform in the long run.

Twitter’s influence in India is notable with about 23.6 million users as of January 2022, according to Statista. Nevertheless, India contributes only a modest portion of Twitter’s revenue. In the fiscal year 2021 (FY21), Twitter’s registered entity in India reported revenues of Rs 86.39 crore, which was a mere 0.23 percent of Twitter’s global revenue. This scenario, however, saw an upswing in FY22 when revenue surged by approximately 82 percent to Rs 156.75 crore. Despite this growth, the Indian entity posted a net loss of Rs 31.84 crore.

Amid Musk’s high-profile overhaul of Twitter, we sought insights from someone with a longstanding relationship with the platform. Naina Redhu, arguably India’s first Twitter user, shared her reflections on her 16-year journey on Twitter and her perspective on the significant changes Musk is bringing to the platform.

Naina recounted that she joined Twitter in 2006 when it was still known as TWTTR. At the time, she was living in Mumbai, engrossed in the burgeoning internet and blogging scene. “I started my first blog in 2004 and was quite involved with the online developments,” she said.

Describing the early days, Naina recalled, “I remember very clearly signing up and seeing a few people exchanging texts on the screen, planning meet-ups in Palo Alto. It seemed like a platform meant exclusively for a U.S. audience; there was hardly anyone from India.”

It was through an article listing “The first 140 people to sign up to Twitter” that Naina discovered she might be the first Indian user. “There were no Indian names on the list. I wrote a blog post titled ‘Am I the first Indian Twitter user?’ Several people resonated with it as they couldn’t find any other Indian users either,” she shared.

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Reflecting on the shifts over the years, Naina noted significant changes, such as the increase in the character limit from 140 to 280. “The essence of Twitter felt diluted,” she mentioned, as she reminisced about the unique challenges of crafting messages within the 140-character limit. “Twitter has become like a blog with the ‘thread system’,” she added.

Another change Naina missed was the “Fail Whale,” an image of a whale that appeared when the platform crashed due to high traffic. “Although good for Twitter’s services, the ‘Fail Whale’ was a lovable quirk,” she noted with a touch of nostalgia.

The sense of community that used to define Twitter also seems to be a thing of the past, Naina observed. “The platform used to facilitate real-life meet-ups—‘Tweet-Ups’—where users could connect in person, something that has vanished now,” she lamented.

Discussing Musk’s proposed subscription fee for verification, Naina was skeptical. “The blue tick has always meant that a verified person is behind the account. Changing that could be confusing,” she stated. She questioned the value proposition of paying for lesser ads, adding, “If they are taking money, there should be no ads at all.”

Naina acknowledged Musk’s experimental approach toward Twitter, reflecting on the platform’s early days of frequent changes and user feedback. “Elon is a polarising figure, but he is trying something new. It’s exciting to see where it goes,” she opined.

Regarding the introduction of the ‘edit’ button under Twitter Blue, Naina was indifferent. “I’ve survived 16 years without it; I’m not going to pay for it now,” she laughed.

Doubting the success of the USD 8 fee in India, Naina stated, “I wouldn’t subscribe. Paid services should add value, and currently, I don’t see any added value on Twitter.” She pointed out that while subscription fees work for platforms like Netflix or Spotify due to their content offerings, Twitter, in her view, doesn’t provide similar tangible benefits.

Naina also dismissed the idea that other platforms might mimic Twitter’s subscription model, “What other platforms are there, really?” She remarked on Instagram’s ad algorithm, which she feels is more effective than Twitter’s.

When asked about the potential of users migrating to other platforms like Koo or Mastodon, Naina was unconvinced. “Twitter’s loyalty is unmatched. Even if people don’t pay the $8, they will continue using the free account,” she asserted. “Unless there is a mass exodus, Twitter’s user base isn’t going anywhere.”

Summarizing her thoughts, Naina concluded, “This is the most people have talked about Twitter on Twitter. I’m eagerly awaiting to see what Musk does next.”

Watch the full interview for more insights and detailed discussions.