The contrast between the print media and the Internet is sharp. While readership and growth in Hindi and regional languages are exploding in newspapers, the picture is quite the opposite in the Internet.
A joint survey by the Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB) and the Internet and Mobile Association of India found that there are only 1,250 local language Web sites in India, of which nearly 550 are blogs published by individuals. As many as 284 are entertainment or news portals while 124 are personal sites.
With only 14 e-commerce sites and 29 search engines or all-purpose portals, the numbers are seen to be small, compared with the untapped potential.
Although Hindi is the third-most language spoken in the world with 49 crore speakers, second only to Chinese (which has more than 105 crore speakers) and English (51 crore), it doesn’t feature in the top 10 Internet languages, the survey found.
The study says local languages on the Net are more a “labour of love” than work driven by pressing needs and demand. “Anybody who accesses the Net is comfortable with English as the operating language for his or her activities on the internet, be it e-commerce or search or classifieds,” said Satya Prabhakar, chief executive officer of community portal Sulekha.com, which despite its Hindi sounding name, is devoted to English.
However, Rediff.com, which offers its email services as well as search in eight local languages is optimistic. Uday Sodhi, senior vice-president, interactive services, Rediff.com said, “It is likely that a lot of new Internet users will be more comfortable with local languages. There is a lot of local content available but there are technical difficulties in aggregating it and converting it into Unicode standard before disseminating it, but we will continue our efforts in the direction.”
In some Asian countries such as China, Taiwan and South Korea, local languages are strong and hence the local language sites are more influential there, said Prabhakar.