Twitter walks into the ‘Lite’ party unfashionably late

Ramarko Sengupta April 6, 2017 4 min

Micro-blogging site Twitter on Thursday launched a faster, lighter, data-optimized version of its service for the mobile web. Christened Twitter Lite, it is aimed at people with sporadic connections or limited mobile data. However, unlike other ‘Lite’ apps such as Facebook, Twitter Lite is browser-based. “You can bookmark it on your homescreen and have an app-like experience,” Twitter’s Senior Director Business Development – Asia Pacific Arvinder Gujral said.

With the data saver mode on, it promises to compress 70% data usage. Twitter Lite uses 1 MB data and claims to load 30% faster.

However, the company is rather late in joining the ‘Lite’ party. Facebook, for instance, launched its Lite version in 2015. Earlier this week YouTube rolled out its low-data mobile app designed for India called YouTube Go.

Ever since Facebook announced its ‘Lite’ version way back in 2009, speculation was rife about Twitter following suit. When asked what took Twitter so long to launch a ‘Lite’ version, Gujral said, “It’s not a race. This is the right time to launch this based on where we are as a business.” The usage patterns that the company has observed over the years prompted this move now, he said.

The launch of the ‘lite’ version is clearly an attempt to gain new users from India’s smaller towns and semi-urban areas

As far as user base goes Twitter has not been able to rake up the numbers significantly and is way behind Facebook. It had 319 million average monthly active users at the end of last year compared to Facebook’s 1.9 billion users. Facebook’s Lite app alone has 200 million users in two years since its launch. Twitter saw a 4% year-on-year increase in its user base as of last year.

The launch of the ‘lite’ version is clearly an attempt to gain new users from India’s smaller towns and semi-urban areas, where WiFi connections are rare and mobile connectivity is patchy. If it fails to capture these users, Twitter would fall behind other social networks in terms of user-base.

The move also comes at a time when Twitter is facing competition from platforms like Mastodon.social, an open-source version of Twitter with some crucial differences. On Mastodon, posts don’t have the 140-character limit, and can go up to 500 characters. Users can create micro-sites, also called ‘instances’, for specific interests and topics, and restrict entry. Also, users can make individual posts private. Launched last October, in its first six months the platform acquired 24,000 users and has gone up to nearly 42,000 as of yesterday. It is increasingly popular with a more sophisticated user-base, which is looking for Twitter alternatives that are less acrimonious and negative, and have better controls for users to engage in meaningful conversations.

The move also comes at a time when Twitter is facing competition from platforms like Mastodon.social, an open-source version of Twitter

Twitter has seen a number of high-level exits in the recent past that started at the beginning of last year. The massive top management exodus included product head Kevin Weil, media head Katie Jacobs Stanton, engineering head Alex Roetter, and Vine manager Jason Toff. All these top executives quit in January last year on the same day. Twitter India head Rishi Jaitly also quit late last year soon after the company announced it would cut 9% of its global workforce, affecting more than 300 employees as part of a broader restructuring.

However, it wouldn’t be fair to dismiss Twitter, especially at a time when politics are more polarised all over the world than ever before, and the platform is still the medium of choice for world leaders, business leaders, celebrities, and those looking to make a point. US president Donald Trump recently said, “Without Twitter, I would not be here” in an interview with the Financial Times.

India is among Twitter’s largest and fastest growing markets, according to the company’s Asia Pacific Managing Director Maya Hari. Apparently, this is what prompted the company to do the global launch starting with India. Hari also pointed out that a “large proportion” of mobile data users in India use pre-paid plans, which made the case for launching a data-friendly ‘Lite’ version. Twitter Lite is aimed at emerging markets where users have limited or erratic connectivity.

Twitter Lite is a Progressive Web Application (PWA) developed in partnership with Google. According to Google, its PWAs load instantly and never show the ‘downasaur’ (even in uncertain network conditions), respond quickly to user interactions with silky smooth animations and no janky scrolling and feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.

Twitter Lite is available in 42 languages including six Indian languages.


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