Twitter going mainstream in South Africa?

Two big clues in the last 2 days.

1. The Star runs a cartoon where a lady opens the door, is surprised to see death waiting and says, "Hang on! I've so got to Twitter this!".

2. Finweek runs a front page story telling businessmen that if they're not on Twitter, LinkedIn and FaceBook, they're losing out on serious networking opportunities.

Twitter has always been firmly in the realms of the geeks and the tech industry. I never imagined we have much more than a couple of thousand local Twitter users. Perhaps times are a changin'.

What do you think?


  1. It sure seems like it! I'm trying to get more people using it. Once you get the hang of it its addictive!

  2. I think it is becoming mainstream, I heard Mark Gillman (of all people) talking about Twitter on 5fm on Saturday morning and I have noticed a marked upswing of South African followers in the last few weeks.

    It is huge overseas and it is inevitable that it will become more popular here.

  3. Don't be ridiculous. "Mainstream" doesn't mean 5,10,15 000 is means 100 00, 200 000 400 000, 1000 000 people at a bare minimum.

    We can say that Mxit has gone "Mainstream" (if you believe their stats). But twitter in SA going mainstream, I think not...

    Let's be honest, the Internet isn't even "Mainstream" in SA.

  4. Mainstream - The prevailing current of thought, influence, or activity

    Twitter is in fact going mainstream in South Africa.

  5. Part of the reason for Twitter's popularity overseas is that mobile-comms carriers provide text-messages for Twitter updates. Another reason it's so popular is that the penetration of mobile phone technology and the number of informed users is significantly high.

    We're lacking on all counts right now. Twitter isn't mainstream yet but it can get there. That said, by the time this country wakes up to urgent need to develop decent comms infrastructure, the world may have moved on from Twitter.

  6. @conrad - It is oddly addictive. Once you learn to cut through the stream of consciousness crap :)

    @snowgoose - Talked about vs Mainstream. Interesting argument. It's definitely getting airtime - but broadband penetration will be the killer at the end of the day - unless a really cool mobile application comes out (not iPhone based!)

  7. @nic OK. Pre-warning - I'm going have a dig, and then agree with you... :)

    1,000,000 people makes it mainstream. then we'd have to say FaceBook is mainstream.

    But yeah, I definitely get your point. MXit is very main stream. It's mobile, accessible and probably makes pot loads of money.

    Perhaps we need to judge online services with a slightly different approach. What percentage of our broadband population is thus considered mainstream in our "subsegment" of population?

    It's coming though... Slowly, slowly, access to online is increasing. Whether anyone will give a flying about Twitter is another question!

  8. @amod 100%. That's the probably with innovation that moves so bloody fast. Just when us "third worlders" have caught on - the service gets replaced by the next flavour of the year. Let's see how long Twitter can keep up it's 900% international growth...

  9. It sure would have helped if South Africa had a sms service for Twitter, but there are some nice Twitter apps available for any Java enabled phones. On my BlackBerry I use TwitterBerry. A great app!

  10. @Crown Ambassador - In your opinion, what's the best app for Nokia Smartphones... aside from obviously...?

  11. Andy - thanks for the response but I would be more inclined to argue that our precise problem here in SA is that we think a couple of thousand people makes something mainstream. The bare fact of the matter is that it needs to be a tool that is mainly used to be called mainstream (in my opinion only). Thus we could almost call facebook mainstream and be justified in that branding.

    We could call Mxit mainstream and I would argue that Mxit trumps what twitter is trying to do.

    So instead of us trying to push twitter in to the mainstream we should be looking at the ways the the majority of South Africans communicate (cellphones perhaps) and custom build a twitter-like solution that isn't going to cost a bomb and provide the same functionality. Or would we call that Mxit or The Grid?

    I think we need to think bigger, take products to market and then make them mainstream instead of trying to manipulate the word mainstream to suit our needs.

    Simply branding something mainstream because the word was featured on the cover of a magazine with maybe 30 000 circulation cannot make something mainstream.

    evl - "The prevailing current of thought, influence, or activity" - can you honestly say to me that twitter is a prevailing current of thought in the South African population, no, the South African ONLINE population. Even if we get the number of twitter users up to 10 000 South Africans that's still probably between 3%-5% of all South Africans online on fixed internet using twitter. that's not mainstream. that's irrelevant.

  12. @Andy I can't for the life of me remember what Twitter app I was running on my Nokia. Will check if it is still on it when I get home.

    But a search on Google will give a variety of apps.

  13. has a whole list of mobile apps.

  14. @Nic - Agreed. I think it's just interesting how traditionally defined "mainstream" media are starting to talk about Twitter. Twitter is by no means mainstream. More like the flavour of the month for content strapped journos? (Ouch. Foot in mouth).

    Perhaps "mainstream" is a word that shouldn't be used at all in this country. The digital divide, the income gap and many other social factors make niche technologies almost impossible to define as truly mainstream. Except cellphones I guess...

  15. @Crown - Thanks... I'll check 'em out. Just waiting for my E71 from MTN Business. I'm giving them a chance after normal MTN just performed an epic customer service #fail :)

  16. @Andy I smell a number port coming! hehe (Vodacom sales consultant!)

  17. @Crown - I will eat something HORRIBLE if Vodacom is bothering to listen to online conversations from a sales perspective.

    But we're getting off topic here... :)

  18. Hi Andy and Nic
    I read your fascinated discussion and thought that it will be interesting to run a minor research for the Mainstream argument sake.
    see the link for the internet users statistics in Africa compared to the world and amongst countries in Africa

    Looking at the numbers - Can Twitter be going mainstream when the majority of the population does not have access to internt?
    On the other hand with 10% Internt users - how many are using twitter?
    i know that in my office with about 40 employees - I am the only one using it...
    take i further - private schools i work with - about 200 teachers - i could give you maybe 30 ID for twitter - but you will find their Tweet is bare...

    BTW, it is so sad that we are so far below the world Average (5%- to 21% World average)

    Thanks for the post and for a great blog Andy

  19. Twitter has a great chance of going mainstream. I saw this quote on Twitter just the other day: “Facebook is about people you used to know; Twitter is about people you’d like to know better” - Ivor Tossel.

    This is very true, and if you combine the simplicity of Twitter with the growing mobile trends in SA it makes sense that a lightweight tool like Twitter could easily be adopted.

  20. I think that the coverage given to Twitter in the mainstream media regardless of the insignificant following in the South African digital thoughtspace is a sign that we're starting to consider ourselves of the global online thoughtspace instead of South African digital citizens.

    We are all bloggers. Not South African bloggers. We are all Tweeters.. etc.. etc..

    We're starting to shed the "geo-technically boxed in" mentality, and that is a very good thing.

  21. People, lose your myopia.

    Broadband Internet currently penetrates at about 4-5 million users, out of a population of 50 million. Of those 4 million users, less than 10'000 even _use_ Twitter.

    Mainstream? Give me a bloody break.

  22. @ariellah Thanks for those stats - interesting stuff. I think it's obvious from the debate that Twitter is nowhere near mainstream. Perhaps I was linkbaiting a little.

    Still, value can exist in small communities...

  23. @arthur Now there's a point. Mainstream or not, the one thing the internet / web 2.0 has brought to light is the steadily shrinking global borders. You're right - we're Tweeters. Not necessary local Tweeters. In fact, it's something I really like about Twitter. If I leave a comment on Guy Kawasaki's blog, engaging him on a topic, he's very unlikely to reply. If I tweet him - much more likely. Takes skill to say something in 140 char.

    @wogan Of course dude... Read the comments above. It's more a debate about how and why mainstream media are suddenly giving a TINY platform such airtime in South Africa. When that happens, it's a sign of something.

    Sorry - I probably keyword baited you a bit :) But the debate is fascinating nonetheless...

  24. @Andy The Twitter app I was using on my Nokia was TinyTwitter.

    So we have the stats of home many people in SA has internet access. Does anyone have the stats of how many people have cell phones in SA?

  25. marshal mcluhan would say that the opinion leaders, in this case also early adopters, would be paving the way for the tweet to get into the conciousness of the mainstream, once a certain critical mass has been reached everyone will follow. BUT we need a platform, eg mobile with 80% market penetration already is the SA platform, just not tweaked to tweet yet

  26. It's very interesting to see when something "new" comes out and get's attention.

    Facebook took over from MySpace (more so in SA), Digg became popular overseas (when the industry realised the traffic potential) and now we see Digg losing the traffic race against Twitter.

    Twitter hits the news, and everyone has their interest tweaked, Great for Twitter.Then i am sure folks may have noticed the increase in "spam" accounts/followers with the increase in popularity.

    Twitter getting more coverage in the media in SA, may very well be due to the fact that SA is becoming more aware of the online world and happenings.

    How long will this "phase" last, before it's replaced (perhaps not the best word to use) by something better/more popular as we have seen happen for social platforms in the past?


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