As Cyclone Phailin roared into the Odisha coast on Saturday, I was watching live TV and also monitoring Twitter. And it became clearer than before that for big events, Twitter has become both a supplement and a substitute for TV. Officials, media persons and experts alike join the general public in discussing or sharing information on the microblogging site.
While one tweeting journalist caught in the eye of the storm came up with graphic descriptions that beat the camera crews stranded some distance away, a weather expert was holding forth as well.
While corporate brands are trying to use Twitter for promoting sales and addressing customers, there is little doubt that the natural bias of the site is for public and social issues — apart from cinema and sport. I once said, “Twitter is the new parliament, and Facebook is the new café.”
I may modify my statement to say “Twitter is the new UN General Assembly” because the borderless nature of social media makes it as international as one wants it to be.
That brings me to the impending initial public offer (IPO) of shares by Twitter, which as a business entity is hot but still in a tentative way. Since government departments, officials, celebrities and media alike use Twitter actively, the social character of the site needs emphasis.
I think it would be a good idea for governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to invest in the IPO, so that they can become active shareholders (stakeholders, really) in driving its usage and determine its use more creatively and freely.
It is a stray thought, perhaps but I say this because the estimated valuation of Twitter at $15 billion seems small compared to its social and political significance not measured in revenue terms.
This way, social agencies and those concerned with public good can preempt any attempt to reduce Twitter to a simplistic advertisement spinner!