WITH India’s Internet user base at 40 million at the moment — according to data from the Internet and Mobile Association of India — and with Internet access on mobile phones gaining ground, social networking in India has also witnessed a slew of desi players in the last two years inspired by the success of the likes of Orkut, hi5, Facebook and MySpace.com.
Indian firms such as fropper.com, sulekha.com, and recently the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani-promoted BigAdda.com are now competing against global social networking websites to grab the attention of a swelling customer base in India.
They are seen replicating models of Internet companies such as Google’s Orkut and Myspace. US media giant News Corporation had bought Myspace for Rs 2,610 crore having sensed the opportunity quite early. The opportunity here is to earn revenues from Internet advertising. The business model is similar to free web-based email sites — register users, let advertisers reach them and then the website makes money.
Social networking sites also offer a better target audience with better profiling of registered customers and their consumer preferences, while allowing advertisers a chance to tap into a captive audience for their specific brands.
Most Indian social networking websites today claim an user base of around 3 million registered users, miniscule compared to MySpace, which has 106 million users, or Orkut with 67 million.
Clearly, Indian firms have their task cut out. But Siddhartha Roy, CEO, BigAdda, says optimistically: “We are early on the curve.” Alok Mittal, MD, Canaan Partners, a venture capital firm, says: “When you put that in context, Indian social networking websites are in their infancy. The break-even point is longer, but once they attain a critical mass of 40 million users, then VC firms will start investing in them.”
Navin Mittal, CEO, fropper.com, says: “With the Indian Internet user-base negligible compared to the US or China, these are very early days.” Indian advertisers also don’t leverage social networking as a part of their branding exercise, even though it gives them access to specific age-group profiles, adds Satya Prabhakar, CEO, sulekha.com.