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Yahoo India bets big on regional languages

To introduce 5 new languages to its content search options by 2012-end

Swati Garg  |  Kolkata 

At a time when digital media and search majors like Yahoo and are struggling with the monetisation of platforms that they have already built, is looking to introduce at least 5 new languages to its content search options by the end of the year.

According to Prem Panicker, managing editor of Yahoo India, in the next 5 years, the language space will see an addition of up to 20 million users per language. “This is in itself a huge potential market waiting to be explored,” he explained.

The language space, according to data by internet rating agency, Comscore, is believed to be growing at 40 per cent. Besides the percentage growth figures, says Yahoo, there has been considerable success in the already operational language metrics. Tamil, for example, has grown at 160 per cent in per views over the past 6 months, claims Yahoo.

The language play, becomes significant for most search players in India because, estimates by industry experts say that if in the next five years the internet using population of India is to reach about 350 million people, a majority of the new additions will come from the language group.

At present, according to estimates by the internet and mobile association of India (IAMAI), India has 120 million internet users.

“In this scenario, we have two choices-we either wait for this play to develop and then expand capacities, or we create demand by building infrastructure thereby ensuring better positioning for ourselves,” Panicker explained the reason for the effort.

Yahoo’s efforts come at a time when India is making its first official foray into the language play on the internet, with the dot-Bharat domain name ready to take off in May. This is in line with the trend in more matured economies, where 90 per cent of companies have local domain name websites. In China for example, the dominant domain names end in dot-cn, in japan, etc. “Local domain names are important because they give impetus to the now slow market. If one has to ensure that the 400 million internet users estimate does not hit a stonewall, local domain names are a must,” said Govind, CEO, National Internet Exchange of India (Nixi)

Interestingly enough Yahoo is not the only company which is taking steps to improve its presence in the language play. Google, which dominates the internet search play in India, already offers news searches in languages like Kannada and Tamil.

In an earlier interview with Business Standard, Vinay Goel, director, India, had said that languages will be the play which will dominate the growth of internet usage in India, even as computer and broadband penetration breaches the income and tier-I city barrier.

“The coming of new like 3G and 4G, along with the availability of devices like tablets and the increasing penetration of the smartphone will mean that more and more language users will get onto the search bandwagon. This is where the search market will grow,” Goel said. Keeping this in mind, Yahoo is working on getting the language content on to new age media devices as well, Panicker said. “The product team is working on ensuring that the new language content is present across digital formats,” he said.

Interestingly, most big players, including Google, Microsoft and Nokia have already made efforts at gaining control of this market. While offers content in 11 languages and transliteration of news in 4, Nokia supports multiple regional languages.

Microsoft’s transliteration website, which offers digital translation and virtual keyboards has seen an upswing in membership from 50,000 in 2008 to 1,00,000 in 2010.

The only impediment, says Yahoo, could possibly be the lack of ecosystem. “Hardware or the lack of supporting ecosystem might be a problem yes, but it is my understanding from my discussions with the industry, soon one will see a spate of supporting infrastructure. The market is big, they have no choice but to exploit,” Panicker explained.

First Published: Fri, February 03 2012. 00:44 IST