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Social networking runs deeper into masses

I often remark that for every Shah Rukh Khan starrer directed by Karan Johar that India’s English language media gushes about, Bollywood produces two hits starring less celebrated actors such as Ajay Devgan and Govinda.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2010 20:52 IST
N Madhavan

I often remark that for every Shah Rukh Khan starrer directed by Karan Johar that India’s English language media gushes about, Bollywood produces two hits starring less celebrated actors such as Ajay Devgan and Govinda.

Numbers are difficult in disorganised Bollywood but I have little doubt that the vast hinterland of India is ignored by metropolitan journalists.

These thoughts came to mind last week when I was at the IndiaSocial Summit organised by Scenario Consulting. While the phenomenal social networking site Facebook and professional networking site LinkedIn were prominent, my real lessons came on the sidelines from Mohit Gundecha, India director of mig33, a mobile networking site.

Picture mobile networking like a Facebook for those below the radar of the big city cool kids — or like the movie hits beyond the pale of Delhi or Mumbai.

“Many people in smaller towns of India are not comfortable sharing their real life on social networks,” says Gundecha. But they spend money and are mobile savvy and use avatars (handles, pseudonyms) to buy virtual gifts, chat and seek entertainment on the network, he adds.

The company does not disclose exact numbers but says there are “several million” registered users in India.

Around July this year, Internet measurement company comScore said India had about 33 million unique social network visitors in all, of which Facebook had 20.9 million while Google’s Orkut had 19.9 million (Many users are on both networks). Sites such as ibibo.com, Twitter, BharatStudent and Yahoo Pulse had between 2.9 and 4.4 million each.

The year clearly belonged to Facebook that roughly trebled its base in India to overtake Orkut. But significantly, Orkut is also anecdotally associated by many with the gauche, shy small-town user.

Clearly, like Bollywood movies, social media is also getting beyond the pale of urban drawing room references. Cheaper smartphones and data plans are already here and regional language-based content is also taking off. Sites such as SMSGupshup boast of high activity by people from the Northeast and other remote regions of the country.

Over the past decade, we have seen the mobile phone turn from an elite status symbol to a mass phenomenon. It seems social networking is also growing faster than one might guess in a similar way. It is time to take note of that.