Birthday list: Five things Twitter users could do with

Twitter is hit by abusers, trolls, gatecrashers and wannabes. It needs new tricks but remains humanity’s best-known single platform for politics and public affairs. It could do with cool new features -- and some way to keep out hate-mongers

columns Updated: Mar 21, 2016 18:41 IST
N. Madhavan
N. Madhavan
Hindustan Times
Twitter,social media,politics
Twitter’s logo on the front of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 2013 (AFP)

Twitter turns 10 years old today, and, for someone who is not a teenager yet, is horribly precocious. And why not? I do not think humanity has known a single global platform on which just about anybody with a will can get on at a low cost and air his/her opinions and thoughts and have a fair chance of being heard in some way.

You say there is Facebook? Think again. Facebook, born on February 4, 2004, is a little over two years elder as a sibling but its mystique has been in friendships and a certain “request” based network of warmer people.

Twitter is something else. It is not for nothing that I have said more than once: Facebook is the new café. Twitter is the new parliament.

Read | Twitter in 10 numbers on its 10th birthday

From Justin Bieber and Bill Gates to the Dalai Lalma and Amitabh Bachchhan, everybody who wants to reach out to a large number of people is on Twitter. But then, it is largely political. Whether you like it or not. And some of us have moved from the Like to Dislike stage of this, thanks to abusers, trolls, gatecrashers and wannabes.

If that is not politics, what is?

This piece sums up in 10 tweets a cursory history of Twitter, the microblogging site born on March 21, 2006. Between its birth and now, much has happened, but the biggest achievement of Twitter has been that it has become the definitive real-time, 24/7, global place for those interested in politics, public affairs and the business of stumbling upon interesting strangers who like to share ideas and views.

Think of this tweet in 2014, when Narendra Modi swept tp power

Obama and Modi are on Twitter. The Islamic State, whether you like it or not, used Twitter to its advantage before everybody woke up. Political changes in Molodova, West Asia, the US and India have been influenced by Twitter.

There lies the rub. Politics is moneywise not necessarily a great business, and that’s probably why Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s founder, has had to come back as its CEO. Because markets do not necessarily love what political activists and journalists do.

Read | Twitter sends 140-character message to users on 10th birthday

On its birthday, #LoveTwitter is trending, but just a few days ago #RIPTwitter was trending. Twitter’s market value is less than $12 billion, its shares down to $16.84 from its record high of $69 in January, 2014. This is its lowest value yet. Facebook has added the equivalent of twice the entire market value of Twitter in the past two months alone! Facebook has 1.6 billion active monthly users, compared with Twitter’s 320 million.

I had suggested that global governments should subscribe to Twitter’s IPO as it was more of a social platform. It remains a romantic thought. Dorsey has been tweaking Twitter to make it look more cool, but this pits the “cool kids” against the “cult” elite who like the serious, noisy face of the site.

Read | What 32 million Indians made of Twitter

Personally, I would love to see Dorsey do 5 things to make Twitter better.

1)Help make the whole site more visual – Facebook owns Instagram already. Younger folks like visual stuff.

2)Find better ways to filter abusive, useless tweeters and followers

3)Go beyond tools to conduct polls to create collaborative knowledge that can be used as mashups – like research on the fly.

4)Launch a premium service where only verified users can hang out so that experts charge for their expertise. Consulting was never so easy! (Who needs Quora!)

5)Try to help long-form writing co-exist with micro-blogging by coming out with suitable tools. Who needs if Twitter gets better?

I began my journey on Twitter with this invocation to Ganesha .

Nearly seven years and about 90,000 followers later, I wish it the very best, hoping that Jack Dorsey gifts us stuff that will take it from cool to classy.

First Published: Mar 21, 2016 18:39 IST