Local Language Internet

There’s an interesting discussion on local language internet in India by Mahesh following IAMAI report on the same. Some perspectives on the same:

  • Should there be local language internet – Absolutely! The power of internet lies in micro-segmentation, and there is no “need to dump Kannada” as Mahesh puts it.
  • Is there a market on local language internet in India – honestly, I don’t see it. Economic Times and Google launching local language sites is not an evidence of a market being there – it is a strategy to cover bases. Regardless of whether one takes the IAMAI numbers or Mahesh’s numbers of number of blogs, the numbers are very small to create any decent sized business.
  • UGC and Mobile – both very preliminary on local language. Imho, the experience on mobile would suggest that roman script might get adopted for short format content for local language use. The key reason behind lower usage of sms in lower-ARPU subs is not language, its pricing (as per telcos who have experimented with it).
  • Growth curve – again, I fail to see the discontinuity here – there is no sudden jump expected in internet penetration which brings in a large base of non-english users in reach, there is no authoring tools which seem to have the potential to train millions of users in short period of times, the progress on fonts has been slow and steady over past few years.

Would love to get others’ views on the above and where they see the opportunity in the local language internet. Videos, in my mind, is clearly one area where local language internet rules, largely because the experience is seamless and it fits nicely into our consumption patterns. Is there a business opportunity here?

7 Responses to “Local Language Internet”

  1. Dhruv Shenoy says:

    I think the issue is not about how big the local language base is. No one is contesting the obvious scale in local language.

    I saw a reference to China. I am not sure if we can equate the growth of Internet in China to what can potentially happen in India. We have mostly equated Internet usage to English language proficiency and people who are familiar with English have tended to get comfortable with Internet more easily than people who are not.

    I believe that different languages present different comfort levels for ‘read’, ‘write’ and ‘watch’. Not all languages have the same ‘read’, ‘write’ and ‘watch’ quotients. Magazines and newspapers in local language are flourishing because most languages have a good ‘read’ quotient provided there is an audience that’s tied to the local language without biases. (For example, I see an educated Tamil being comfortable in reading a Tamil newspaper whereas I do not find the same happening in the case of a Kannada reader – it’s a personal observation not something I have researched). Similarly, one would see that the biggest and the most popular TV programmes are not in English but in local languages. Because languages have a great ‘watch’ quotient.

    But to be successful on the Internet, what one needs is a good ‘write’ quotient as well and unfortunately, most languages are not ‘write’ enabled for today’s generation. How many of us have written in our native language in the last 30 days? or 12 months?

    In my opinion, this would be the reason why local language Internet in India will not grow the way it has grown in China.

    As Alok pointed out, local language videos have a great chance to spur Internet usage among people who are currently out of the periphery of Internet due to ‘the language factor’. As TV has shown, a visual medium is likely to attract much higher eyeballs although interactivity the way it happens on traditional English sites might be limited.

  2. GK says:

    I have run a mobile and Internet company in China and I know the power of local anguage.

    In India, the facts are that less than 5 percent of the total population and less than 10 % of the literate population know English.

    However, being a desperately poor country, we have a very high degree of convergence between internet users and english speakers. The rest of the population has very little Internet access despite being the vast majority.

    On mobile, the local language preference will be higher but there are no worthwhile local language services yet and the mobile web has extremely low penetration.

    Eventually, local language must win. It will take time though…

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