Twitter Southeast Asia and India MD brushes turmoil, launches Twitter Lite in India first.

06-04-2017
HT

After the turbulence of 2016, Twitter is expecting a smoother year ahead, with the micro-blogging firm expecting big gains in India, one of its fastest growing markets, say its top executives.

They would add many more users through Twitter Lite, launched on Thursday keeping in mind areas where connectivity was poor, Twitter’s Southeast Asia and India managing director Maya Hari and Twitter Southeast Asia business development director Arvinder Gujral said.

“India, which is one of the top five markets, is also one of the fastest growing markets for Twitter and we believe that it is the best time for growth in the country as more and more people join the platform, including celebrities,” said Hari.

Twitter was seeing a steady gain in users in south and east India, Hari told HT on the sidelines of the launch of Twitter Lite, but refused to share the numbers.

Twitter doesn’t give country break-ups of its users.

Last few months have been stormy of Twitter India that saw some high profile exits in November. Parminder Singh, managing director of West Asia and north Africa, and India head Rishi Jaitley left the company, citing differences with management. Other countries, too, reported exits.

The company cut 9% of its global workforce, affecting more than 300 employees. It has also been in talks for a possible stake sale.

Generating revenue remains a constant worry. “Twitter has struggled to generate ad revenue as it is 50% to 60% more expensive than Facebook. Advertisers have moved to outcome-based models rather than brand recall -- something that Facebook is very good at,” said Sanchit Vir Gogia, founder and chief analyst of Greyhound Research, a tech market analysis firm.

The Lite launch could change the company’s fortunes, Gogia said. “Increase in the total number of users should give them an advantage, however, if advertisers don’t see Twitter as a platform that can convert users into sales then the magic won’t last,” he said.

Twitter has released the lighter version of its platform in partnership with cellular network operator Vodafone.

“The new lighter version will have some offline capabilities including a cache of tweets till the time the phone is connected to the internet along with the option for the user to load photos and videos on their Twitter feed,” Gujral said.

The lighter app would save at least 70% of data cost and would be 30% faster, he said.

The launch is in keeping with tech giants such as Google and Facebook offering lighter versions to gain more users to increase ad revenues.

While Google has come out with offline versions of YouTube and Google Maps, Facebook is offering the option of saving videos to be viewed later.

However, Twitter Lite is not an app. It is a Progressive Web App, which combines feature of web browser with than of smart phone app.

“Twitter Lite can just be accessed via mobile.twitter.com and this means that the user doesn’t need to have an app store such as the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store to access the interface. A VoLTE ready feature phone can also access it and these so-called smart feature phones are catching up,” Gujral said.

Hari, who took over her new role in late November, also pointed out that prepaid mobile connections dominated India and a lighter version would make a better selling proposition to users.

“Our analysis shows that tier-II and tier-III cities have shown an increase in number of users courtesy TwitterSeva and other government-related services, cricket, elections and entertainment,” Hari said.

The Lite will come in six languages -- Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, Bengali, Tamil and Hindi.

Twitter has 313 million active users with 82% of them accessing it on mobile phones.

According to statistics website Statista, Twitter India was projected to get 23.2 million monthly active users by 2016 from 11.5 million in 2013.

But, Twitter is struggling to keep pace with rival Facebook in the social media space.

Twitter added just two million monthly active users compared with Facebook’s 72 million during the recent US presidential elections.

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