Harsha Bhogle has been commentating and writing on cricket for as long as he can remember. He took to Twitter two years ago and despite being a connoisseur of language, someone who takes pleasure and pride in putting together carefully crafted sentences, he admits to having become somewhat addicted to it. Of course, it helps that he has over 290,000 followers that soak up his every word. He talks to Social Samosa about how he happened to join Twitter, the power of the medium, and why he isn’t on Facebook.
How did you get on Twitter? When did you get on Twitter?
A friend of mine who works for Castrol – his name is Rajeev – said I think you should be on Twitter. I told him I didn’t know how to be on Twitter. I am not on Facebook. But he called me and said I have already made an ID for you on Twitter. This is what it is. So then I learned how you use it. Twitter is not very difficult. I never got on to Facebook because I didn’t know about the privacy settings. When you are a public figure, and I am not that big a public figure, then people say things for nuisance value. I ignore them on Twitter. But if they came on Facebook, I wouldn’t know how to block them. I don’t like blocking people because I believe in the inherent openness of society, so I never got onto Facebook.
So that’s how Twitter started. Purely by accident. Someone else actually registered for me
When was this?
A couple of years now.
Have you become addicted to it?
Some days I find I am, yes. What happens is I put up a post and in about 10 minutes I might get a 100 to 150 responses. Then everyone is vain, so you want to see what people have said. But what happens as a result is, because of the number of responses, you can’t reply. And people hate me for not replying. But I can’t reply. If I started replying, I would be doing nothing else. So some days I find I am overdoing it.
How do you balance the desire to use it and connect and not let it take over your life?
But increasingly I am using it for information. So it has become like a news source for me.
How and what kind of information do you get on Twitter?
When Kim [Jong-Il] of North Korea [died], I got it on Twitter. Someone told me that Vinay Kumar was going to Australia. So you follow some people who put up the news.
How has your use of Twitter evolved since you first got on it?
When I started in this profession, the Bombay afternoon papers – Mid-Day, the Afternoon – which were the papers doing well at that time, used to do 60,000-70,000 copies. Afternoon used to do 35,000 – 40,000 copies. If you have a following of 280,000 people, then it is like having your own newspaper. And if you want to get your point across, there is a great sense of humility that what you are saying is going out to 2,80,000 people. So it places a responsibility on you.
My view has changed in that, earlier it didn’t matter so much. But now I have a responsibility and I can’t be flippant and just say whatever I want.
What is it that you use Twitter to tell people who follow you?
I use Twitter to lead people to what I am doing sometimes. So if I am doing a video piece for Samsonite, then I will post the link there. Or if I am doing an ESPNcricinfo or Indian Express article, I will post a link saying here’s what it is. So I use it for that. I also use Twitter to gauge what people think.
Have you found it has given you more access to people?
Enormous access to people. I will suddenly find that out of the blue someone I know in Australia will message me back. It is very humbling to know. I am going to Australia [to do radio for India’s tour of Australia] and I have got so many messages from people there saying ‘I am looking forward to seeing you share the mike with Kerry O’Keefe.’ Which would never have happened if I was not on Twitter.
I didn’t have an email address for Damien Fleming and I needed to ask him something. But I knew his Twitter handle. So I just put it out. And then I got a reply a few hours later. It is almost like you can have a one-to-one correspondence with everyone else eavesdropping. Because otherwise you have to a DM [direct message] and whatever, which is too much of a pain.
So if there is a lot of technology involved or rules, you don’t tend to use it?
It is like coming to a coffee shop like this, and ordering a simple coffee when you can order exotic coffees. I do technology when it is simple. I don’t have a smart phone. Never used one.
As a writer, how have you dealt with Twitter’s 140-character limit?
Initially, I started off writing “hv” for have and using short forms. One day I got a tweet from somebody else that I just couldn’t read. I had no idea what it was. So I said I don’t want to spoil my language like this. So I will write proper English in 140-characters. As proper English as I can. So if you notice, I don’t use short-forms anymore. I think you can do it, though sometimes 140 is too little.
Where I find Twitter to be a pain is where you are trying to present an argument or a point of view. There Twitter is not enough. And people pick up half an argument and misuse it. Then you have to go to Twit Long and Twit Longer and do all that. It’s too much.
So I discovered I can’t make argument or present a point of view on Twitter.
Is that frustrating?
It was frustrating initially until I discovered that if you can’t do it, don’t do it.
How many people do you follow?
Are they mostly cricket-related?
Not all. One day I was following economist Kaushik Basu [the Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India]. I thought this man is intelligent and seems to like the language. Let’s follow him. And I get interesting things from there. The thing I can’t do on Twitter, which I find a lot of people do, is that the moment someone says something nice about them, they re-tweet it. My first thought is that there must be awfully few people saying nice things about them, if they can re-tweet everything. If I did that, I would be re-tweeting hundreds a day. I probably sound big-headed when I say that.
The other thing I don’t do is re-tweet. I might re-tweet one a month. Because I find that when I re-tweet – suppose Tariq has said something which I like and I re-tweet, I find that people cut off the original source and I get the credit for it. Which is not fair. So I told people, guys if you don’t give credit to the original person, then it’s not fair. But people kept doing that so I stopped re-tweeting.
Now what I do is, I say From @Tariq and paste their line. So people know where it is coming from as part of the tweet. I find that if people are famous, they are quite happy to give them the credit for everything. Like that fake article that went under my name and became viral on the net. It wasn’t me. I don’t know why people thought it was my style but it wasn’t me. I put so many clarifications but people still think it’s mine.
Sometimes I get strange replies. I put out a Tweet about how I am finally going to get a smart phone and I got 300 to 350 replies to that. So maybe people do want to know a side to people that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see.
Has Twitter affected how you report or influenced the other work you do?
No. Not yet. I don’t think so. Because in my other work, I like the flow of language. I like to use language to move from one point to another. I like to embellish a point, which you can’t do on Twitter.
But in terms of content?
Yes. I do get feedback. And I read all of my feedback. People ask me if I read the Tweets they send me and yes, I read them. Every single response that I get, I read. But I can’t respond to all of them. I get feedback. In course of time, you know whose feedback to listen to and who’s not to listen to.
What has been the biggest benefit of getting on Twitter for you?
Making myself accessible to a wide range of people.
Have you gotten more work through Twitter?
No. Part of the reason is I am already doing more than I can do. But people are using Twitter to invite me to their colleges. I can’t always go though.
I [also] find that Twitter allows people to get personal. I follow [Amitabh] Bachchan. I find a child like enthusiasm in him to be on Twitter, which I like. It allows him to get close to people without the mask on. Public figures, and I am not among them, have to wear a mask. And this is their way of getting close to people. Something I can’t understand though [is someone like Shane Warne]. These days all Shane Warne does is say nice things about Liz Hurley on Twitter. But he can do that when he meets her, no?
Do you see Twitter becoming a forum for athletes to communicate directly without a journalist in the middle? Is that happening?
It [would not be a] bad thing. But there is also a huge problem of impersonation, so you never know. Rahul Dravid’s fake account has 40,000 followers. And still people think it’s Rahul Dravid’s account. There are two fake Rahul Dravid accounts going around. And Rahul is not on Twitter. But it doesn’t stop people from thinking that it is Rahul Dravid. That is an area that Twitter has to get over. I don’t know how though.
They have a way to verify Twitter accounts.
I don’t know how to do that. I am not verified. I don’t know how to do it. Last time I tried to verify it, they wanted to link it to my own blog, but I don’t have a blog. So how do I verify it? I don’t know how to do it. If someone could do it for me, that would be great. So, I am not verified.
A lot of fans now voice their openings on Twitter in real time. How do you think the boards and administrators will react? Is this a good thing?
If they cared, it would be a good thing. But do they worry about what people say? I don’t think so. If they worried, they would run cricket differently.
The BCCI has a Twitter account. Is this a way for the BCCI to do some image management?
I would like it to be true. I see Sundar Raman [The chief executive of the IPL] is on Twitter personally. Maybe circumstances will force them to get close to consumers. But so far the consumer has not been an important part of BCCI’s need hierarchy. I don’t know if it will ever get there.
But I find a lot of other celebrities use it rather well.
What gets the most responses?
Sachin Tendulkar. From a cricketing comment, Tendulkar. Always a Tendulkar comment. Or a comment about the phone. People are willing to help. I said I didn’t know a smart phone required a micro-sim. About 25 to 30 people sent me tweets explaining how to cut the SIM. One person sent me a YouTube video on how to do it.
What about other forms of social media? You have already mentioned why you are not on Facebook
I am going to start blogging when I get back from Australia. Going to set up my own homepage.
I find I want to say more than 140 characters. People seem to like this informal content, as opposed to the more reasoned articles that I like. It will also allow me to post every single article I write. For some reason, which I can’t figure out, people are interested in what I do. So maybe if I do a blog, it will interest people.
This sort of access as people have to you now, do you see that changing how you think about things?
Twitter challenges you like no other medium does. I have seen people make utter fools of themselves on Twitter. I have seen people come through as big headed, snobbish. I don’t want to been seen that way. I think because you tweet instinctively sometimes, your true character comes out on Twitter.
That’s also the reason why I will never use a Smartphone to tweet. That’s what I am saying now. It might change. But I don’t want to put out a line and then regret it later. You can’t call it back.
Do you think about what you are going to tweet?
Always. Every single tweet. So many times I have composed a tweet and erased it without sending it. Very often.
Has it changed how you think about journalism?
No, but what it does is, like a blog, democratized journalism and has made an evil sub-editor redundant. We have all been through evil sub-editors. The frustration and the eventual joy of seeing your byline in print, meaning you got through a sub-editor.
On Twitter though, unless you have a following, it’s not much good. I don’t know if it is as democratizing [as blogs].
Has Twitter done anything for brand Harsha?
I think so. It has taken me to people that I could not have reached otherwise. Television was my only access so far. There are newspaper articles, but they are prepared. Television is my only access and it is a distant medium. It is not a friendly medium. Twitter is a friendly medium and has helped people get to know me better.
If I Tweet in [local] languages, I get huge responses. If I tweet in Telugu or if I tweet in Marathi, I am flooded with people saying wow! Marathi, Telugu, Hindi. One day I tweeted four or five tweets in Telugu. It went viral. So that was fun
Do you ever put up pictures?
I did some. But it is too cumbersome. If I had a smart phone, I might. But it’s too cumbersome. I might do it from Australia, let’s see.
I also find that if I want to know something, I just put it on Twitter and responses come flooding in. You get some good comments. Responses which are erudite.