Strategy, Web

How did Twitter become popular?

Over my next few posts, I am going to write about the businesses Twitter, Wolfram Alpha, Bing, and one of our very Indian platform (let’s leave the name for the future!)


People call it all sorts of things, but I would call it the only real social networking platform of today. Orkut and Facebook have done all sorts of things, but at the end of the day, neither Orkut nor Facebook is actually a networking platform. They are more of the place where you meet your old friends, be happy to be connected with them, and then forget them once more, unless it’s your birthday and they scrap you.

Now, Twitter is different. Twitter is actually a social networking platform. Let me explain each of these words – Platform – because it is extremely basic in its functionality, yet extremely good at it, and does not restrict you unnecessarily. There isn’t much code behind Twitter – it’s code can be written by anyone with basic Web Knowledge. What is great about Twitter is its server and infrastructure at the back end, which ensures that people can login through all sorts of media and still put up their message, and read other messages without the server blowing up.

Now that’s just the beginning. How did Twitter become popular? Twitter grew in steps – very big steps. Initially, Twitter was used just by the techies, and also by bloggers. Techies – because they liked to try new tools, and Bloggers – purely as a marketing technique for their blogs – so if you are a blogger, start following others (and thankfully anyone could follow anyone unlike the endless delays of accepting friends on other networks), and hope they follow you, and then blast them with your blog links. But again, many providers other than Twitter provided this service too. So why did Twitter emerge above others? Simply because it was uncluttered and it did not provide any useless information in the hope of trying to satisfy every need. Also, since Tweeters were not really sharing any personal information, they had the option of being a little more expressive in their opinions.

So Twitter laid its foundation right, and made itself ready for something big to happen on it. And one of those very big things was – 26/11, the Mumbai attacks. This is when Twitter broke all barriers of communication – by giving us first hand information about the attacks. This was really different from a news channel – it was like a live experience (of course, the incident in itself is extremely unfortunate). And it spread like a viral. This was definitely a big leap for Twitter.

The best part of the Twitter platform was that it is not limited by anything. You don’t need specifically a Gmail account, or a Yahoo account, or a Rediff account, there are no restrictions – you just need any one email ID with which you can join Twitter – there are no restrictions for commenting, and it’s so easy to put links without making them look long and ugly!

The next bit is – networking platform – Twitter is one place where you can actually find people you are looking for – A good example would be of the time of the recent Mumbai Rains – I wanted to know the status of affairs in Mumbai – and all I had to do was search for “mumbairains” on Twitter, and it connected me with a whole lot of people who were talking about the issue. This is what networking is all about! Networking is best when you get a channel to communicate (or maybe just listen) to the exact person who can serve the need of the hour.

Finally – it’s a social networking platform – why? Because it is of the people, by the people, and for the people (that should even make it democratic J). It’s got abundant rumours, it has got a whole lot of wrong news spreading like wildfire, it has got a whole lot of personalized opinions by people, and they share it across the world.

The best part for Twitter is that its growth is completely exponential – if ever there is a viral, it is on Twitter, and thus Twitter itself becomes stronger with that – with each viral making users better users of Twitter. Its rank all over the world is 25, and in India it’s growing faster by the day – and is now 15. Now, each time I want to know what’s the most popular news in the world right now, I just log on to Twitter and check the list of most discussed topics on the Right Menu, and get all the information I will ever need!

And of course, it’s as easy as clicking a button to hear out first hand to some of the top stars – Gul Panag and Mallika Sherawat (both have Twitter verified accounts).

Twitter is growing fast – it’s what a lot of B School students will recognize as “IP” – just that this IP is all over the world! Twitter is going to get even more popular with mobiles in the future – it’s just a question of time before we all start Tweeting from our mobiles on the move.

PS: I would recommend Twitterfox to all Twitter users – simple and light, yet effective.

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15 thoughts on “How did Twitter become popular?

  1. pria says:

    Great read Atul…!
    the exponential growth of Twitter u mentioned in itself shows the immense business potential of Twitter. Waiting to find out the ways they r going to make their revenue.

  2. I would call it the only real social networking platform of today.

    Yeah its different in many ways and could be very effective for meeting new People…

    From the Perspective of meeting new People, What makes it a Safer bet is that you can follow anyone without worrying much about the Response of the Person and being labeled despo…

    The Other Person doesn’t have any compulsion to follow back…

    That is the catch I think…

    What do you guys say???

    me @rungss on Twitter

  3. And…

    You Retweet or make comment on someone’s Tweet sometimes without even noticing the People who initiated it or through whom it passed…

    And You receive their reply/response and a Conversation starts.. with a more Friendly manner.. and BhartMatrimony didn’t work for me.. maybe Twiitter does..

    @rungss again on Twitter

  4. Perhaps the most imp line there Bijay is that ‘the other person doesn’t have any compulsion to follow back’ – this helps to extend this relationship beyond friends and therein lies the success of a Follower model!

  5. @Siddhesh

    Yes indeed….

    This is what’s been running in my mind for a couple of Days..

    Because we follow each Other so I guess you will know when I am most active on Twitter and when not…



  6. I think it is sort of evolution on the net. First there was Orkut but then people started feeling that it shares information in public and slowly people moved to Facebook. Next came twitter where you are only sharing what you want to share and there is very limited privacy and still people like it.
    I head the term networking a lot nowdays! and truly Twitter is the only online networking tool! Rest all just connect with people you have already met.

  7. Bhuvana Arasu says:

    Twitter has substituted google reader and epaper for me.. Very well written post. Especially where you have applied jargon like social media, networking to twitter and explained how it actually achieves it.

  8. prashant pawan says:

    @ natrajan
    Actually you can become a ‘fan’ of him on FB, which has the same functionality as ‘follow’. You get his updates on your stream. Celebs like Federer, ColdPlay are using this very well

  9. prashant pawan says:

    Also, just my two cents:
    Maybe twitter became popular in India with the #mumbai tag, but it was already huge in the US/Europe by then.
    Many people who attend tech conferences regularly, have mentioned that Twitter people hard sold themselves at each of the conferences (huge banners, free accounts, what not).
    There is a very strong offline component to their growth (i dare say larger than the online/viral part).

  10. anr says:

    how does one get that first step in viral mktg going? Or is it something one prays for and once in a while sometimes gets lucky?

    maybe, you need to be part of some influential networks like those in the silicon valley? I do believe that there are and would have been many potent ideas in India too. Do those have a comparable chance of success?

  11. @PPP – thanks for the insights, do give us more details on the offline bit.

    @Anr – First step to get viral marketing going is to have something exciting, and that something exciting coming out in a different way than ever before, and that coupled with a stable medium of transfer which is easy to understand and where you spend the least time in configuring yourself to understand the medium.

  12. ramyaa narayanan says:

    I agree that with Atul the the first step to viral marketing is to have a different and exciting. As easy as it sounds Viral is very powerful and difficult to do if the product is not good.

    There are number of social networking websites out there these days and some are very interesting for instead is one such platform where we can have private networks. So some interesting this going on.

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