Who stole cities, states and India’s “official” twitter username ?

Have you ever wondered who owns our cities & states username on twitter ?  Interestingly,  the twitter handles of all the major cities, states in India, including India are held by private individuals, commercial entities  and most of them are either dormant, inactive, or for private views only.

Most shocking is that twitter handle @India  is owned by an individual based in Guangzhou, China and runs a dubious looking e-commerce platform. He introduces the handle as ” Everything about India”  with total number of 14,802 followers with paltry 100 tweets till date.

In this digital age, twitter username has slowly become synonymous  with  identity of an  individual, celebrity, politician, company  and  organization who have active online presence. This is no different to countries and cities globally. People are googling with country and city handle to engage with authorities.

In an era, where a single tweet from a twitter handle with significance can create panic, political upheavals, endless TV debates   among others social, economic and political repercussions. Twitter has become a platform for public diplomacy & public engagement.

twitter theif

Who owns Indian Metro Cities & States Twitter Handle ?

The  twitter handle of  all the metro cities in India including Delhi, capital city of the country  are owned by unknown individuals or e-commerce platforms.

The twitter handle @delhi, of India’s capital city  has no identity and the tweets are most promotional tweets on real estate. The  twitter handles of both the  IT hubs in the country @Bangalore and @Hyderabad  has no single tweet to its name and are owned by unknown individuals. The twitter handle of @Mumbai introduces itself as gateway to India with 3958 followers but mere 108 tweets till date, mostly a dormant one. And the @Kolkaata twitter handle seems to be owned by an individual from Spain who tweets in Spanish language.

The story remains  same with state name and their twitter handles. None of the state government owns the official twitter account in their name.  It is always complicated to identify and contact twitter account holder as neither they  share information online nor they respond to public mention of then in tweets. However, with sustained effort states can the username back.

 

Ahmedabad Bangalore delhi India Kolkaata

Cities, state and country twitter Username are virtual Identity of the Place.

The city’s official twitter handle has an immense value in disseminating right information, creating engagement with citizens & tourists, can be used majorly during disasters, branding many other uses and also for dispelling rumours in time of the need. It can be single source of channel to spread the information on social media platform.

According to  Burson-Marsteller, a globally recognized communication firm observes that quote “Why is it so important to register one’s country Twitter handle? On Twitter every letter counts.Secondly, who should have the right to the country name if not the government or the official tourism organization? And finally having the country’s Twitter handle improves search engine ranking since Twitter handles have a high Google page rank and almost always appear on the first two Google result pages.”

 Government Concerned  To Control over Social Media Than Making Best Use of It.

Sadly, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting(MIB) has done naught   to reclaim the “official” twitter handles from the imposters. However, MIB has been proactive in blocking twitter handles for political reasons.

The political parties both in ruling and opposition  at centre and state level in India are hitching  to the social media bandwagon to popularize and promote their party to garner crucial votes. However, there seems to be no earnest approach from the Central Government  to retrieve back the twitter handle @india which can be a powerful branding medium for India and also a tool to disseminate right information in the masses. 

Globally, cities and country are fighting legally and politically  to get hold of the official twitter handle.  However, The government in India, both at state & central level are focused on political opportunism on social  media than using its amplifying power to change the daily lives of its citizens.

There are 160 million Indian internet users and  86 million of them  go online on their mobile devices and more than 50 per cent of them are active on social media platforms.

Only Nine Nations Own National Twitter handles: study

According to a study by In “Twiplomacy”, Only nine out of the 193 U.N. member states own Twitter accounts bearing their country’s name, and only three of those accounts have been officially verified by the microblogging site, Twitter.

Only the @GreatBritain, @Israel and @SouthAfrica handles were verified by Twitter as official accounts run by the countries’ governments or tourism boards.

The Twitter accounts of Antigua Barbuda, Barbados, Lithuania, the Maldives and Spain are also run by their respective tourism organizations to promote tourism in the countries, the study showed.

Twitter’s no Official Stand on Impersonation of City/State/Country username

Twitter defines username or handle as “Must be unique and contain fewer than 15 characters. Is used to identify you on Twitter for replies and mentions.” Twitter states in its ‘Name Squatting Policy‘ “that we will not release inactive or squatted usernames except in cases of trademark infringement.” And in case of  company is being impersonated or a trademarked brand is being misused, Twitter states that Companies and businesses should report accounts misusing their trademarks or brand by filing a complaint under  their Trademark Policy.

However, there is no mention of Twitter Policy on when cities, states or countries username gets impersonated.

 Call For Action :Government of India  should pro actively write to Twitter Authorities to get the India username back.

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Hits & Misses in Cyclesharing in India

Cycle sharing story in India so far 

Caught up in traffic jam for long hours and agonising wait for short-distance commute for public transport system in Mumbai, one of the busiest place in India, Raj Janagam, came up with Cycle Chalao, an organised system of renting out cycles at certain parts in Mumbai to provide last mile connectivity to hapless commuters.The pilot project started with 30 cycles. It was operational on 2.5 kilometres between  Mulund East Railway Station and Vaze Kelkar college in Mumbai. This was an instant hit among  young commuters. The system helped the commuters who get out of buses and trains and then have to wait for long or haggle with autos and cabs to reach home or near by offices which were located within a kilometre or two.

A cycle Chalao, cycle sharing cum renting in Mumbai. The services are  not in operation

A cycle Chalao, cycle sharing cum renting in Mumbai. The services are not in operation.

Riding on the success, in year 2011, Cycle Chalao was awarded a project by Pune Municipal Corporation(Pune) to run and operate public cycle share system in the city. However, the project ran into rough weather. Cycle Chalo winded up their initiative and this what they have to say  on their official website “Bicycle sharing systems to be successful in India have to be fully sponsored by the public authorities wherein the private corporations shall act as contractors to provide construction, operations and maintenance alone. ”

In city of Bengaluru which is riddled with traffic jams and parking issues, Kerberon Automations, a green technology start-up came up with  bicycle sharing system known as ATCAG(Automated Tracking and Control of Green Assets), an automated unit which automatically issues and accepts bicycles electromechanically.

The pilot project ran with nine cycles at three locations in the central business district of Bangalore in association with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT), Govt. of Karnataka. According ATCAG, an automatic system will  immensely  help in popularising the concept, just like an an ATM machine. The system cuts waiting time and human intervention and makes it easier for the commuters to use the system. Now, the cities are moving towards single mobility cards and this  system can be well integrated into that.

A  welcome beginning

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Launch of Namma Cycle in Bengaluru at IISC campus

On August 6, 2012, Namma Cycle, a cycle share system was launched at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. The system works on “simple sign-Up, select, ride and return system where students can sign-up via the website and get a registration ID, select a cycle from any of the station racks, ride the cycle to their destination and return it to the nearest station.” According to Namma Cycle website , within five months of its operation, 3000 trips were made covering 4500 km and prevented one ton of CO2 emissions because 300 liters of petrol were not used.

Cities eager to experiment with cycles to ease congestion

The other cities in India which are toying with the cycle share idea are Bhubaneswar, Mysore, Jaipour, Rajkot, Vadodara and Ahmedabad. Bhubaneswar seems to be the most promising one among them. Recently, a delegation of  Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC)  visited  Amsterdam  to see the facilities provided to cyclists as a part of a study tour.

The National Urban Transport Policy, 2006 of Government of India(GoI) emphasizes on” movement of people and not vehicles”. Recently, Ministry of Urban Development, GoI  came up with a toolkit to promote cycle share systems in India. The toolkit outlines  cycle sharing  planning process, project prerequisites, institutional roles and responsibilities, the coverage area, number of cycle stations, and outreach and marketing of the concept.

A captive young audience for cycling

In India, already 25- 30 per cent of daily trips are by walking & cycling  which needs to be preserved with better facilities for them on roads. Current cycling trends show that majority of cycling is done for transport by the poor. There is also a growing tribe of  very high end cyclists who do this for leisure and endurance exercise.India has a young population and for them cycle can be an ideal transport mode for short trips which they used to take by bus, walking or auto rickshaw. The cycles can be used for short commute, with the additional benefit to health & environment, but with this intermodal travel as a main focus.

Challenges  ahead

However, there are challenges ahead for cycle share schemes in terms of political will, dedicated allocation of government funds for cycling infrastructure, competition with mega city projects, image of cycle as a poor man’s choice  and inclusion  of unorganized cycle rental facilities existing in different cities provided by local cycle shop owners.No doubt, Cycle sharing systems in India will create a new group of people who will  use cycles for everyday commute from different economic backgrounds and not just poor.The cities need to invest in providing  proper safety on roads for cyclists, innovation in street design by allocating dedicated space for cyclists and extensive  use of mobile & IT applications and good outreach & marketing of cycle sharing concept among young population.

Future is bright for cycling in India

Compared to other public transportation projects, cycle sharing systems are very inexpensive, fun and people friendly. Cycle sharing systems can be well be utilised or integrated as a feeder system which can provide first & last mile connectivity to  public transport systems like, BRTS & Metro. India has a thriving bicycle industry in existence which needs to be explored and encouraged to be part of city cycling revolution with proper incentives and friendly government policies.

*Originally the article got posted on Sustainable Cities Collective, an independent editorial for Urban Thinkers