Internet faces Hindi challenge

5 November 2014

NEW DELHI: The growth of Digital India and increased internet penetration faces a potential language hurdle as the next wave of Indian consumers going online are less proficient in English and there is very little Hindi content available.

"Practically, all of the country's English-speaking population of 198m is already online," noted Rajan Anandan, vice president and managing director of Google India.

Accordingly, his company is partnering with others – publishers and technology businesses – in the Indian Language Internet Alliance (ILIA) to ensure that the 500m new users are served with content in their own language.

"It is important to contribute more content, so India does not miss the boat," he told Livemint.

Anandan illustrated his case with the example of Estonia – a population of 1.3m which had 44,000 Wikipedia pages in its native language. By comparison there were just 22,000 pages in Hindi for one of the world's largest nations.

"This should have been looked at ten years ago," admitted Sandeep Menon, director, marketing, Google India. Some work had previously been done in this area by various groups but publishers anticipate the presence of Google will unify these efforts and accelerate the process.

"When actually Google starts the group, everybody will stand up and take notice of the same," said B.G. Mahesh, founder and managing director of One India, one of the publishers on the platform. "They (Google) are taking inputs from publishers like us, the technology folks. So we are all actually working towards trying to improve the ecosystem."

Mahesh added that this development was urgently needed as internet growth among English-speaking users had reached saturation point and was hitting the balance sheet. "So now it has to be languages that will help you provide the growth," he said. "This will improve search a lot, and it will help increase the revenue."

Newspapers have already moved to exploit growing literacy outside metropolitan India, producing more regional papers in local languages with a focus on local affairs. Publishers have also regarded these papers as being less at risk from the growth of the internet than their English-language counterparts, a stance that may no longer be quite so confident.

Google has been involved in similar initiatives elsewhere, most notably in the Middle East, where its Arab Web Days project has inspired users and businesses to collaborate and create online Arabic content.

Data sourced from Livemint; additional content by Warc staff