Who you should follow (other than Time Out, obviously …)
What the tweet do we know? Twitter was born in 2006 when Jack Dorsey (@Jack) sat in a park in San Francisco to brainstorm with his colleagues about how to transform their podcasting company, Odeo. He came up with an idea for an SMS portal where people could send throwaway texts to a certain group of people (‘the club we’re at is happening right now’, for example) – communication so short and sweet that you turn to it without thought, worry or analysis.
Five years and a lot of development later and Twitter (the first idea for a name was Friend Stalker) is now a global phenomenon. One of the 10 most visited sites in the world, it was even responsible for breaking the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death: an IT consultant tweeted news of helicopters hovering over Abbotabad during the raid, while Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff tweeted: ‘So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden.’ The growing volume of users worldwide became clear last month when it was announced that Lady Gaga had 10 million Twitter followers, closely followed by Justin Bieber and Barack Obama. We’re a little worried about those priorities.
The magnitude of Twitter’s influence in the UAE is still hard to measure. However, recent developments point to its power here: in 2010, telecommunications company du claimed that there were 15,000 users in the UAE, and last week Twitter told us there has been at least a 100 per cent increase in users in the past year. If both figures are correct, that brings the total to more than 30,000.
At the recent Arab Media Forum, many commentators from across the Middle East opined that social media was slowly unsticking the red tape wrapped around information in the Arab region, as exemplified by the recent ‘Arab spring’. The fact that local tweeter Sultan Al Qassemi’s followers rose from 4,000 to 60,000 after the Arab unrest peaked tells us that much of this area (and the world) was watching via Twitter. And the very recent undoing of UK footballer Ryan Giggs’ superinjunction (against press reports of his infidelity) by about 75,000 Twitter users, and the resulting questioning of injunctions as a realistic legal procedure, emphasise the medium’s ability to shape cultures.
Not signed up yet? Read on to find our pick of the 20 most engaging Dubai-based people, places and organisations with at least 1,200 Twitter followers at time of going to press – we’ve monitored them all over the past year to ensure the relevance of their feeds. Trust us, it’ll change your Dubai life.
Sultan Al Qassemi
68,631 followers @sultanalqassemi Voted one of Time magazine’s top 140 Twitter feeds, Sharjah-born, Paris-educated Al Qassemi tirelessly commentates on politics in the Arab world. In fact, he has become one of the key ‘freedom fighters’ for various causes in the Middle East. During the recent activity in Egypt and Yemen, he tweeted live translations of speeches, making his feed an English language news frontline.
Time Out Dubai
14,995 followers @timeoutdubai The team at Time Out has been regularly updating the feed since August 2008 with essential info for your Dubai social life, covering everything from the best happy hours to the greatest film quotes of all time.
The Dubai Mall
12,777 followers @thedubaimall Another brand that’s very good at responding to queries – someone at the mall even replies to ‘tweeps’ requesting store contact details and mall information. We follow The Dubai Mall to keep abreast of the many special projects, offers and discounts that run weekly.
11,433 followers @Catboy_Dubai From tales of his escapades in Spinneys to updates on local radio station Dubai 92 (on which he is a long-standing presenter), British expat Catboy is one of Dubai’s most prolific tweeters. Last time we checked his feed he was spam-tweeting puns combining fish and musicians: MC Hammour was our favourite.
10,654 followers @uaenews Updated about 10 times an hour, this feed consolidates the news coming out of the UAE’s many media outlets. A good go-to for up-to-the-minute information about breaking news around the region.
7,913 followers @djbliss Emirati radio, TV and club personality DJ Bliss (Marwan to his mates) tweets a lot about his own happenings, but you’ll often discover a lot of insider city secrets when following him. He discusses everything from which big musicians are coming to Dubai (although we’ll always tell you first!) to which spot in town is best for falafel.
7,537 followers @emiratweet Calling themselves the first ‘virtual majlis’ for Emiratis, by Emiratis, we like following them for gems of information about Emirati culture, opinions and heritage. Some tweets are in Arabic, but many are also in English.
Caramel Dubai & James Young
1,603 & 6,690 followers @carameldubai, @thatdubaiguy Caramel Lounge in DIFC is one of the best examples in the city of a brand engaging with its consumer base through social media. James Young is the man behind that, creating and engaging in genuine discussions with diners. Didn’t like the wagyu sliders on your last visit? If you tweet about it, James is bound to respond with a solution. Obviously the majority of the tweets are about Caramel, yet the feeds are worth a follow if you’re interested in using social media to build your business.
6,272 followers @dubaicares This UAE philanthropic organisation focuses on providing primary school-aged children around the world with the level of education they deserve. The organisation tweets once every three days or so, reminding us of its efforts, how we can help and of the fact that Twitter is about so much more than Four Square, celebrities and what people had for lunch.
5,920 followers @wildpeeta Who knew shawarmas could be so informative? This independently owned fusion shawarma chain tweets about its own produce at times, but Emirati owners Peyman and Mohamed Parham Al Awadhi also reveal other hidden culinary gems, from Emirati cuisine to restaurants that serve Filipino goto soup.
Mishaal Al Gergawi
5,840 followers @algergawi Calling himself a ‘current affairs commentator’, Emirati national Al Gergawi has worked in the financial and public sectors in the UAE and tweets partly in Arabic, partly in English, discussing property, business news and issues of freedom of speech. He’s a man with big opinions, and his feed is one that’s sure to incite conversations.
Spot On PR
5,494 followers @spotonpr A local PR firm that focuses on Twitter and social media. It tweets plenty of insightful nuggets about social media in the Arab world.
Nayla Al Khaja
5,292 followers @naylaalkhaja A pioneering Emirati filmmaker who touches on issues many think would be taboo, Nayla’s feed is all about film. We like hearing about the quirky little movies she’s been watching and the updates from her film projects.
3,264 followers @drbaher This locally-based Syrian app builder is a good person to follow for technology news. He covers all the essential international tech news, as well as local updates.
HE Najla Al Awadhi
3,149 followers @najlaalawadhi A former member of the UAE parliament (she was the youngest UAE parliamentarian in history) and a former chief executive officer at Dubai Media Incorporated, Najla now runs her own consultancy firm. Her tweets are intelligent and touch upon everything from women’s rights in the Gulf to issues of education and conflict in the Middle East.
Brent Black & Kris Fade
1,630 & 2,957 followers each @brentblack; @krisfade These two jokers from Virgin Radio are good to follow for entertainment news updates, as well as some classic quips about the city. In fact, Kris Fade has built such a name for himself that he was nominated for best radio show worldwide at this year’s International Radio Awards in New York. In slightly more surreal news, Brent Black recently tweeted: ‘Anyone know where I could rent a cow for an afternoon in Dubai?’
2,795 followers @geordiearmani This English expat mum (to one child and five cats) offers timely community updates – everything from the latest seatbelt campaigns to tips on the best removals firms and service providers in the city.
Mohammed Saeed Harib
2,276 followers @msharib The creator of famous Emirati cartoon Freej, Harib knows the UAE television industry inside out. He often tweets his opinions on how the media could be improved, as well as updates on key events.
Aida Al Busaidy
1,793 followers @aidaalb As a local columnist and spokesperson for Abu Dhabi green city Masdar, Emirati national Aida makes observations about UAE society that will make you chuckle.
1,264 followers @DubaiAE With updates on the temperature, humidity and wind every five hours or so, this feed will make your standard ‘it’s hot outside’ conversation far more informed, and will help you to pre-empt those sudden sandstorms.