I had an interesting chat with my driver a few days ago. He owns a smartphone but doesn’t know English. However, he has attended school. While driving me around for my work, he asked me if I had the time to check OLX for him, as he wants to buy a bike and an LCD. I asked him why can’t you do it? He said, “Sir, the site is completely in English and I can’t understand product info.” This is just one of many examples of our daily lives where smartphone and internet have become accessible but are not being used to their fullest potential because of the language barrier.
No Indian language finds a place in the top 10 global languages used on the Internet. Hindi, despite being the most spoken language in the country has negligible presence online. Barring a few social media messages and Whatsapp, there is hardly any noticeable effort being made in content creation in any of Indian languages on the Internet. If we compare this with global data, languages like Mandarin, Thai, Arabic dominate the online ecosystem of their respective countries.
The humble telephone has now been replaced by snazzy smart phones. Your entire world is now controlled by simply tapping or touching the screen of your mobile. Send a message, book tickets, pay bills, plan holidays or buy monthly groceries. All of this and more happens using the smartphone device. However, these benefits are still being reaped by the English speaking population which makes up for only 10% users in the smartphone ecosystem. The good news, however, is that stakeholders in the ecosystem – corporates, consumer internet companies, government – have acknowledged this as a problem which needs to be solved with the use of technology and support from the right quarters.
Reverie raised series A funding last year of $4m from Aspada and Qualcomm. This was a seal of confidence for the entire team as the sentiment behind this investment was that investors have also realized that local language technology market needs backing and even companies in e-comm, apps, mobile internet, financial services are increasingly sorting services from startups like ours.
Indian market is being touted as the fastest growing market in many business segment like smartphones, internet consumption, e-comm, travel and hospitality. Many business ideas of the West have seen tremendous success here because India offers scale and a big market size for companies to grow and garner more revenues. The trick to capturing Indian market is to go local with global features. This can only be accomplished if the consumer internet companies realise that they need to explore the possibilities of going multilingual.
Last month, Snapdeal announced that they will be going multi-lingual providing users with as many as 11 languages to choose from in order to surf and purchase from their site. This is a game changing step. We expect more consumer internet companies to follow suit. We believe that from here on, going multi-lingual will be a decision which will be included in all business strategies of consumer internet companies. The need for more web content in local language is driven by the fact that there is a growing smartphone population which doesn’t understand English and a saturation point has been reached in the English speaking smartphone users’ population. The data speak for itself. It is expected that by 2017, the web users in India will touch 500 million and this won’t happen if the internet is not in local language.
Media sector has taken a lead here and is paving the way for others to follow. Content platforms like Your Story have launched their website in several local languages. Even top English dailies like The Economic Times, Business Standard have a hindi edition of their papers which is available online too. But for the real change, we need more companies to go local.
The BFSI segment too is getting serious about going local. Recently, we enabled HDFC Securities to go multi-lingual via our platform. Their customers/traders can now trade in stocks in their preferred language. We are converting real time data from the BSE and NSE for enabling stock trading in real time for non-English traders. HDFC Securities has registered a staggering growth in no. of new users who are using local language feature of the app.
In the smartphone segment, companies like Micromax have taken a lead by launching Unite 2 and Unite 3, one of their most successful smartphones whose USP is that it supports 22 Indian languages. While we have managed to make an impact on one side by enabling businesses to go local, the next thrust has to be on consumer internet space. With the speed with which users are moving online, a majority of them experiencing internet for the first time through their smartphones, need local language internet to make a buying decision. It could be a pair of shoes to a bike or even travel tickets. I’m of the view that with consumer internet companies going local, real power of internet can be harnessed for the Indian non-English speaking population which has a considerable amount of disposable income.
About the author
Arvind Pani is the Co-Founder & CEO at Reverie Language Technologies Pvt. Ltd.
a Bengaluru-based company that is into the local language space.