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Naina Redhu Reflects on 16 Years with Twitter Amid Elon Musk’s Controversial Changes

On October 28, 2022, Elon Musk acquired the social media giant Twitter for USD 44 million. The company was unprofitable at the time of acquisition, prompting Musk to make several drastic attempts to recover his losses. This included massive layoffs, enforcing a grueling 12-hour workday with no rest days for employees, and plans to make the ‘highly coveted’ blue tick verification badge payable at USD 8 per month (approximately Rs 650 per month).

While the latter move was eventually rescinded due to a wave of fake accounts obtaining the ‘Verified’ badge, industry experts caution that Musk’s radical actions may destabilize Twitter. According to Statista, Twitter boasted about 23.6 million users in India as of January 2022. Despite this user base, India contributes only a small fraction of Twitter’s revenue. For instance, the Indian entity recorded Rs 86.39 crore in revenue for FY21, which represented just 0.23 percent of Twitter’s global revenue. Even though revenue jumped by about 82 percent to Rs 156.75 crore in FY22, Twitter India reported a net loss of Rs 31.84 crore for the fiscal year.

To discuss Twitter’s tumultuous journey under Musk’s ownership, we spoke with Naina Redhu, arguably the first Twitter user in India. She shared her insights from her 16-year tenure on the platform and her thoughts on the sweeping changes Musk is implementing.

Redhu first signed up for Twitter in 2006 when it was known as TWTTR. She was working in Mumbai and was deeply interested in the burgeoning internet landscape. “I started my first blog in 2004, so I was quite involved with the things that were happening online,” she recalls.

Her early experiences on Twitter were a blend of curiosity and isolation. “I remember seeing a few people writing texts and interacting as if they knew each other. They were all in Palo Alto, California, and I wished for someone in Bombay that I could connect with,” she said. Over time, someone suggested that Redhu might be the first Indian user on Twitter. After consulting an article listing the first 140 Twitter users, she realized there were no other Indian names on that list, solidifying her place as a Twitter pioneer in India.

Reflecting on the changes from 2006 to 2022, Redhu noted some significant shifts. The character limit change from 140 to 280 characters was a major one.

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. “It took away the essence of Twitter because 140 characters made you condense your thoughts,” she explained. She also missed the ‘Fail Whale’ error message, a whimsical feature that would appear when the platform crashed. “It was a lot of fun, even though it meant the platform wasn’t always reliable.”

The most lamentable change for Redhu, however, was the loss of the community feel. “We used to have ‘Tweet-Ups’ where Twitter users would meet in person. The platform felt smaller and more personal. Now, it’s more about politics and controversies, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it lacks the personal touch,” she observed.

Given these transformations, what does Redhu think of Musk’s proposal to charge for verification? She expressed uncertainty. “I’m not clear on what the blue tick will mean in the future. It used to verify that the account holder is the real person. If that changes, I’m not sure what the value will be,” she said.

She also echoed practical concerns about the USD 8 fee initially tied to the Twitter Blue subscription. “Why would I pay to see fewer ads? Especially when there’s no assurance of value being added,” she questioned, adding that she had managed for 16 years without some of the extra features Twitter Blue aims to offer.

Regarding whether the subscription fee would succeed in India, Redhu was skeptical. “I won’t subscribe, and I can’t say for others. If it doesn’t add value to my life, I don’t see why I would pay for it,” she said. She also doubted that other platforms would follow with similar subscription models, given different ad algorithms and usage patterns.

Finally, when asked about the possibility of users migrating to other platforms like Koo or Mastodon, Redhu was dubious. “Twitter has a loyal audience. Unless there’s a massive exodus, I don’t see people switching platforms. Everyone wants to be where everyone else is,” she asserted.

In sum, Redhu remains cautiously interested in the future of Twitter under Elon Musk. “This is the most people have talked about Twitter on Twitter. I’m excited to see what Musk plans to do with the platform,” she concluded.

Watch the full interview here: [Link]

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