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Online retailers trying to access the 'other India'

business Updated: Sep 09, 2015 10:59 IST
Kalyan Subramani
Kalyan Subramani
Hindustan Times
Online retail

After nearly two years and less than 3,000 lines of software code, two former employees of C-DAC’s Language Technology Group, have laid bare over 150 million mobile internet users in India who were until now were not within the grasp of e-tailers.

SK Mohanty and Vivek Pani at Reverie Language Technologies, a Bangalore-based local language technologies company, are now offering online retailers such as and a whole new and powerful way to reach out to an overwhelming number of Indian consumers who still consider English a foreign language and therefore refrain from spending money to buy stuff online.

The core of what Reverie is offering is a cloud-based software engine that online retailers, among other service providers in the cyberspace, can use to understand search words typed in a multitude of Indian languages, with 90-95% accuracy.

Conventional translation tools available online don’t exactly make the cut when it comes to contextual understanding of what users are looking for.

Translation algorithms have historically failed to achieve business grade accuracy. Popular translation algorithms have adopted a “one-size fits all” approach which is ill-suited to capture the nuances of context, culture, and idioms embedded in Indian languages, according to Vivek Pani.

Take for example “Play” in Hindi, a language a little over half of India is comfortable in. Khel, you would be right but Bajaao will be more accurate if the context is music and Naatak if the context shifts to theater.

“Over 800 million Indians, representing more than a tenth of the world, are literate but not in English. Yet their languages form less than 0.02% of all content on the Web. Compare this number with the less than 100 million Indian users who transact in English. This is a market waiting to happen, provided it happens in local languages,” said Arvind Pani, the elder sibling and Reverie’s founding CEO. “Businesses can see a 10x growth in multilingual and diverse markets such as India. Reverie makes this possible and delivers it at scale through a pay-as-you-grow model”. The elder Pani offers more real-time business rationale to what he is selling.

“We spoke to a popular app-based cab service provider. Nearly 90% of cab drivers polled wanted business leads in a local language, which also explains why they end up calling customers for direction and landmarks despite being provided with a GPRS enabled map,” Pani said. “We also found the average session time spend online shot up by 25-40% and for every one English speaking customer added some two and half to three customers speaking local language were added.”

At the current rate of 80 million smart devices being added every year, the demand for local language among mobile internet users will zoom closer to half a billion Indians over the next five years.

Two investors, Qualcomm Ventures and Aspada on Monday announced parking $4 million in Reverie. Sahil Kini, vice-president, Aspada said, “We are at a stage in our internet growth story where English alone just doesn’t cut it anymore. It is no accident that the circulation of local language newspapers far outstrips any English daily. To go truly deep, to reach out to our users, to make a digital India — local languages is the only way.”

In a joint media statement, the two investors wrote, “The investment shall also boost Reverie’s initiative of democratizing the creation of multilingual apps as it looks to extend its language platform to over 10,000 local language app developers over the next 12 to 18 months.”

Reverie is ready to provide its services in 11 Indian languages now that can support six verticals comprising e-retail, travel, entertainment, classified, banking and apps for cabs. “It is not so much a job a linguist any more though we do have them as advisors. Adopting the engine to a new foreign language is just a few weeks work for us now,” says Arvind Pani who is now looking at languages popular in the Middle East and Europe for opportunities beyond the Indian shores.