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Digital democracy rising

business Updated: Oct 04, 2010 00:26 IST
N Madhavan
N Madhavan
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

There is a new game on the Web, sometimes of dubious significance. But its real significance lies beyond what it shows right now.

I am talking about “trending.” Last week, while the country was absorbed watching the verdict in the Ayodhya dispute between Hindu and Muslim groups, Twitter, the micro-blogging site, was abuzz with some Indians celebrating the verdict’s online glory, when Ayodhya became the top trending topic during the course of the day.

For the uninitiated, “trending” is a reference to the number of times a topic is discussed on Twitter: a score of its importance and popularity. You can also find the Yahoo home page (www.yahoo.com) capturing the latest Web trends. Yahoo also has its Buzz (buzz.yahoo.com) that measures popular stories and topics.

While on Twitter, this is about what is being discussed by tweeters or stories viewed and shared, in Google Trends (www.google.com/trends), you can compare search volume patterns across specific regions, languages, and time periods. The Twitter trending is better called “hot topics” while “hot searches” in Google Trends reflect popular searches (other than routine things like weather) as an indicator of popularity.

For Indian tweeters (still mostly in English), it was a parochial victory when their favourite topic surged ahead of US-dominated topics.

Now, consider a future in which Internet-enabled tablets and smartphones, highly affordable in fast-growing Asian economies, generate more and more searches and tweets. What happened with Ayodhya is the result of both global interest and the surging use of Twitter in India.

The rise of a connected world is going to even out cultural biases inherent in the current digital penetration levels led by the US.

As the Idea Cellular commercial (with the memorable slogan, “What an Idea, sirjee”) showed, the social use of SMS voting, tweets and searches will help policymakers, officials, leaders and companies view social trends and adapt their behaviour suitably.

In a connected world, twe-ets and searches have become live, real-time symbols of democracy at work — and it is no longer about the affluent because connections and devi-ces are ever more affordable.
Social media trends mark a new frontier in the Internet revolution — through the rise of digital democracy.