Currently in its beta version, Spaces is an audio-only concept similar to the nostalgic ‘chat rooms’.
From cinema, music, food, cricket and memes, to politics, mental health and other random life observations, Tamil Twitter is as versatile as its people. When TV news evolved from two-line bulletins to TV debates, tech companies went back in time to experiment with more variations of the age-old concept of ‘chat rooms’. When ‘Clubhouse’ became the buzzword, luring in iPhone users with the idea of a voice-only chat room, android users looked at the buzz wistfully. Soon enough, Twitter introduced the voice-only chatroom concept on its platform and called it ‘Spaces’.
The idea is simple – a voice-only chat room, which has a host, speakers and listeners who are designated so in the chat room too. The host can create a Space and provide a platform to the speakers, one at a time. This means that unless the host decides, no speaker can talk over another speaker. For a demographic that is steeped in pop culture (Vadivelu, Vivek, and Goundamani meme fans, I am looking at you) and cinema (three of the most popular Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu have come from the film field), Spaces is a new place to discuss and debate on a myriad of topics.
Apart from the usual topics of cinema, comedy, anime, and food places in Tamil Nadu, the Tamil Twitterverse is also seeing Spaces covering more serious topics like mental health, menstrual hygiene, women in Dravidian politics to name a few. On one hand, there were a few Spaces which had popular playback singers like Pradeep Kumar and Chinmayi entertaining listeners and fans with their singing, even taking requests. And on the other, more serious note, a couple of Spaces sessions on ‘Caste in stand-up comedy’ ended up fuelling the conversations on casteism in Chennai’s schools, eventually leading to a barrage of allegations of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault against several teachers and staff members of many of the city’s schools.
“One of the main reasons why Twitter Spaces has found so many takers is similar to why many people took up listening to podcasts and audiobooks over reading. People can plug in their earphones and continue to do whatever they were doing, while listening to people talk about things. Reading needs undivided attention,” says Srilakshmi Indrasenan, a Chennai-based entrepreneur. Srilakshmi recently hosted a Space on menstrual hygiene, health and related issues on Twitter which saw around 200 listeners tune in.
Tamil Space (@TamilSpaces) on Twitter is a handle that keeps track of the various Spaces sessions happening on the microblogging platform. With over 10,000 followers, it is a top handle which is referred to by Tamil Twitter users to see if there are interesting sessions live on the platform. Speaking to TNM, Tamil Space said that Spaces that provide a platform for participants to sing and those that provide information about COVID-19 with expert doctors are Spaces that are most popular currently.
The person behind the Tamil Space handle says that on an average, over 60 Spaces take place on a weekday in the Tamil Twitterverse. The number of Spaces on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays) goes up to a little over 130, they add. “The traffic is high between 6 pm and midnight every day. There was a record number of over 44 Tamil Spaces active on May 8,” they note.
What perhaps makes Spaces appealing to a Twitter user is the accessibility it provides to them when a celebrity participates in a particular Space. For example, singer Pradeep Kumar participated in a Space recently, in which thousands of Twitter users were listeners. He even took song requests from users apart from the list he had curated and prepared already for the Space session. In short, it is also different from an audiobook or a podcast in the fact that communication is two-way.
“Twitter Spaces are more interactive and friendly. People can actually listen to their favourite celebrities speak on a platform on which they can also speak. It makes them feel connected personally to the celebrities. Spaces are also entertaining and informative,” Srilakshmi points out. Adding that since Twitter Space is free for all, it helps people to jump from one Space to another if they are bored, without having to pay for it.
Beyond hosting pop culture topics, Twitter Spaces have also become a tool to speak about politics. Groups like Thirumurugan Gandhi’s May 17 movement and others have been regularly organising Spaces sessions on a variety of topics like the Palestine issue and the Sri Lankan crisis. Recently, Dravidar Kazhagam leader Arulmozhi led a Spaces session on ‘Women in Dravidian movement’, which had over 800 listeners, mostly youngsters. A few days ago, Lok Sabha MP and VCK Chief, Thol Thirumavalavan, also spoke at a Spaces session, which also saw several hundred listeners tune in.
“You don’t get to see leaders like Arulmozhi speak about women in the Dravidian movement in public meetings. In that sense, Spaces has become a great tool to document such things,” senior journalist Kavitha Muralidharan says. She explains that topics that are not easily discussed in public meetings due to various reasons get a platform on Spaces. “You won’t be able to hear Thirumavalavan speak about history and such things in a political meeting of the VCK. But you can see that happening in Spaces.”
She also points out that Twitter users are able to demand a chance to speak and counter arguments made on Spaces more easily than at a public meeting. “Usually, right-wing supporters are the first to use any digital platform for their propaganda purposes. But I think in recent times, in Tamil Nadu, Dravidian supporters, especially youngsters, are able to successfully use social media both to disseminate information and history, and also counter fake narratives and problematic views as well as ideas fuelled by the other side,” she adds.
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