A few weeks back Indian users of social networking site Facebook were surprised to see the login page in Devanagiri (Hindi) script. In March this year, visual discovery tool website Pinterest announced a Hindi version, allowing users in India to use the translated version.
Google, though was the first internet platform to offer Hindi translation to its users as early as 2007, Facebook took to Hindi in 2009 and Twitter allowed users to upload and read feeds in Hindi in 2011, it is only now that users are actually using Hindi more. Experts are saying this is primarily due to increase penetration of mobile phones and access of social media.
Adoption and use of local languages is key for internet adoption in the country. The reason being, the literacy rate in India is 76%. Of this only 10% speak and write English. Remaining 66% are literate in their local languages.
According to a latest study conducted by Internet and Mobile Association of India and IMRB International, regional content availability can boost the growth of Internet in India by 24%. The study said that in 2013 the regional language content users grew by 15% to 71.8 million from 45 million in 2012.
And the phenomenon of accessing regional content is not restricted to rural India. Almost 60% of users in urban India access online content in Hindi, followed by Tamil and Marathi. Similarly 27% of users from rural India use Hindi to access online content.
"Social media has played an important role in the uptick of regional content. Initially we were depending on the telcos for access of content but now that's no more the case. Additionally the adoption has been more on the mobile platform," said Zafar Rais, founder and CEO of MindShift Interactive. According to the study by MindShift, vernacular websites are growing at a 56% year -on-year compared to English sites that have been growing at 11% year-on-year.
According to an IMRB report of 2013, usage of Local language content in the Internet has gone up significantly in past few years. "Looking at the previous year's statistics on accessing local language contents in Internet, there has been a 15% growth in the penetration of local language users amongst the active internet users," said the report.
One of the things that always hampered the growth of local language content on the internet has been supporting infrastructure, this would be compatible hardware (mobile/PC with local language keyboards), software and data connectivity.
But this has been undergoing changes over the last few years.
First, worlds two largest tech firms Microsoft and Google have put their weight behind India language computing, said a report by Deloitte. "Microsoft's Project Bhasa is a comprehensive program, which aims to localise Microsoft's flagship products, Windows and Office to offer local language input tools and interface packs in 12 Indian Languages offers. Android's Jelly Bean Version already allows Hindi as an in-built input various Indian languages on feature phones operating
on Android platform," said the technology, media and telecommunication India prediction 2014.
Add to this mobile handset manufacturers and several third-party application providers have also geared up to this opportunity.
Bangalore-based Reverie that works with handset makers like Samsung, Micromax, Karbonn, Celkon, Intex, currently serves about four million smartphones users on its platform for language platforms. Over the next 18-20 months, company expects this number to go up to 20 million as there is a lot of demand for local language enabled smartphones in India.
Arvind Pani, CEO and Co-founder, Reverie Language Technologies, believes local language content adoption will only increase. "English language Internet users have matured and their usage patterns are now clear to many companies. We expect local language internet users to show similar maturity in the next 4-5 years as currently they are in the early days of discovering local language content over the internet. Technology will play a major role in defining and enhancing local language users experience over the internet," he added.
Handset manufacturer Micromax is another player that believes the next market is local language enabled handsets. The firm recently announced the availability of Unite2 that support 21 Indian languages and is targeted towards the entry to medium level.
"For us supporting local language is all about creating an experience. I am not sure how can a customer make informed decision without access to the language they are comfortable in. Also vernacular content was available for long. But there were not enough search engines to make this content available to users as there was no monetization mechanism," said Manoj Gupta, Head VAS, Micromax.
Peeyush Bajpai, co-founder and CEO of Raftaar.in, a Hindi infotainment portal, content aggregator and Hindi serach engine, while mobile and social networking websites have added to the uptick, it's the connectivity that has played a crucial role. "The upside has been due to 3G penetration increasing and 2G rates coming down. Once a user experience on mobile they then want to try it on the website. Whatsapp and micro-blogging website Twitter has seen an increase of content being written in regional language," he added.
Raftaar.in gets about 8.5-9 million page views per month and 2.5-3 million unique visitors per month. The surprising part is that 60-65% of their customers come from cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Delhi (NCR).
Experts say there is a need to standardize processes for local language and see that last mile services are also available in local language to make this a success. IMRB survey said, if local language content is available online, around 10.72 million rural households may consider Internet which may increase the total penetration by approximately 43% to almost 34 million. p