Perspective | Digital going the vernacular way...concern or unlocked potential?!

An ironic situation that stands ahead of India's growing digital culture is the off sync in the rate of internet penetration in India and the literacy rates in the country. Alongside this imbalanced ratio is the fact not all of literate India is well versed with English, which usually is the 'first language of the internet world'. This, we believe shall be considered as a key challenge that hundreds and thousands of Indians from across states may be facing in their quest to adopt technology and access the internet. Though there are now vernacular portals for their ease, but understandably 'language inclusive technology' remains a challenge for a lot of players in the country.

We at Adgully seek an industry perspective on the said issue and try and understand the potential and advancements in the vernacular internet domain. For this, we caught up with Surjeet Singh, VP-Business & Marketing, Raftaar.in; Prashant Dixit, Director, Global Business Development, Vserv.mobi; Tarun Abhichandani, Group Business Director, eTech Group (IMRB) and Amar Thomas, Country Marketing Manager, BlackBerry India. 

A known fact is that vernacular languages possess lot of potential in terms of holding strong future of business and brands in India. Today, to build reach and get deeper into the hearts of the consumers, brands or businesses have to be and are present everywhere and in all possible languages. In many domains, there have been 10X growth in customer coming from mobile devices hence portraying the evolution of the overall system.

Sharing his view point Singh said, “Few years back the entire ecosystem was not supporting the demands of companies and consumers, they end up landing on English website. Eg. Micromax has invested in creating 21 language supported mobile phone. They were not new entrant in this space, customers were already there. They are giving opportunity to connect and understand the system in their respective language, people want service oriented phone."

Thomas opined that vernacular domain does have a lot of potential as it helps the brand dig deep into the minds and hearts of the masses.

Abhichandani stated, “It does have potential and hence it is important for brands to hit the right need to reach to its audience. However, I believe the main challenge is the lack of content. There are no creators to create the content in that language.”
  
Sharing his thoughts on how language inclusive technology' remains a challenge for a lot of players in the country, Singh said, “Yes language is a challenge in our country. There is a perception that Internet is owned by English language, and that perception has started changing in last one and half year. Companies today are investing on hardware obviously on software. Hardware and Software professionals are closely working hand to hand to give the multiple features to customers.”

Abhichandani seconds the statement and agrees that language is a challenge because of non-sanitization being observed everywhere.

Thomas stated, “Yes looking at this growing challenge we focused and strengthen the Hindi language with our new phone Z3. The BlackBerry Keyboard learns what words you use and how you use them, and then offers them up to you so you can type faster and more accurately. I believe it gives you the best Hindi typing experience on a touch-screen thus making technology user friendly.” He believes that it is important to work as per the needs and demands of the consumers. “With giving the opportunity of Hindi typing a lot of mobile players would bring the mobile penetration to digital too in terms of vernacular inclusive technology.” 

Reports state that of the nearly, 1.2 billion people in India, about 213 million (or 16.7%) have internet access. The urban internet penetration is roughly 37% while rural lags way behind at 8.1% only. Compare this with growth in mobile internet usage statistics, already numbered at 238 million out of which more than 50% are first time users. As rightly supported by our panel, this report also cites that challenges like lack of government policies, ambiguity surrounding Indian fonts and input methods, the dearth of local language content and distinct gap in quality and usability in Hindi and other language websites results in a disjointed user experience. All these pose as hindrances for brands who are hoping to capitalize on this market potential need to support the development of the experience and needs of the vernacular internet user.

According to Dixit the reason behind language being a challenge is the non-availability of mediums and understanding of these technologies. “For example: Dainik Bhaskar. They wanted to make a solution for this challenge but what was the biggest hurdle was the availability of Hindi fonts. A lot of mobile phones have recently started giving a Hindi keyboard to ease the user’s interface. Hence, in my opinion, availability is a biggest drawback.”     

An observation marks that when it comes to regional daily newspapers and main line newspapers; they have seen a significant growth but when it comes to digital, the scene is a bit blurr...Agreeing to the observation, Dixit said, “Yes that is very true and a lot of traffic gets diverted to English dailies on Digital. But I also feel that English news channel’s or daily’s apps are also made quite brilliantly. If you look at NDTV or any other app for that matter, you see the kind of buzz that these people create and viz-a-viz if you look at any Hindi daily app - they do not give the users that kind-off experience. Yes now these apps are scaling up a bit and are trying hard to get in the league”.

In terms of TG also, the group varies in digital. However, Dixit believes thit does not vary at all and now-a-days all age-groups are any how present on digital.

Concluding the discussion Singh said, “Because of the evolving ecosystem in less than 6 months, perception will change. Today people do forward messages in Hindi and Hinglish i.e your message is Hindi but you are using English font to type that message, it's very local. People get technical flexibility in typing or communication through local language”.

The existence of more than 500 languages in India, makes us very unique from a global perspective. However, the internet and technology space has adopted English as the primary language of communication and transaction. While this has helped India become a global technology hub, there is still tremendous potential that remains unlocked. [By Aanchal Kohli | Twitter: @aanchalkohli]

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