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Web content in local languages

India has one of the fastest growing internet populations in the country. Market researches reveal that the Indian internet user base could touch 250 million by 2015 from the 2010 estimates of about 81 million of user base.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2011 22:53 IST

India has one of the fastest growing internet populations in the country. Market researches reveal that the Indian internet user base could touch 250 million by 2015 from the 2010 estimates of about 81 million of user base. And digital content consumption can further rise as high as $9.5 billion with rising adoption of mobile internet.

However, if we look into the demographics of the country, factors such as the high illiteracy rate and the population with a lack of familiarity with the internet space are perhaps big loopholes in the growth of internet consumption.

The mobile internet space is taking the digital content consumption market to altogether different heights. The mobile internet market space, flooded with infinite number of low cost phones along with the extended reach of networks by mobile operators, are actually fuelling demand in tier 1 and 2 cities. However, the more exciting story is the devices that are increasingly being used to have access to content — mobile phones with 3G and subsequently 4G capabilities.

The significantly lower access cost of mobile phones has already resulted in a teledensity of over 60% (on population) and penetration into nearly 150 million households. Mobile penetration today has already caught up with TV penetration and is set to scale past effortlessly. Users around the globe have shown quick adaptability to the mobile interface for accessing the internet, and there is no evidence to show that India will be any different.

Though on the one hand technology is evolving at a quick pace and users are adopting it more quickly, on the other hand, the growth of digital content consumption is experiencing a lot of challenges because the bulk of consumers prefer local language content, definitely so in India. This is clearly illustrated by the consumption of other mass media — print, TV, films — where English accounts for less than 10% of the consumption.

In the early days of digital media, the upper income segments, which mainly prefer the English language, dominated the digital consumption space. The market economics, therefore, played out in a way that English language content dominated content generation in India. However, as the present decade plays out, the demand for local language content is bound to play out exactly as it has in other media and content creation is bound to explode.

I believe that there is a huge untapped potential market in the country that can be fulfilled by introducing local languages in the digital content space. As per some industry reports in fact, nine out of the top 30 most widely spoken languages in the world are Indian languages, with Hindi ranked third after Mandarin and English. The other languages are Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Kannada, in that order. Please note that Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi and Tamil are also spoken in neighborhood countries.

However, the presence of local Indian languages in the digital world is very low. This is strange because local languages dominate both the print media and the audio-visual media (TV, movies, radio). There are nearly 800 movies produced every year in India and their box office collection completely dwarfs the earnings of English films. In fact, Hollywood has found it lucrative to dub movies in local languages to grow their market share.

With over 75 crore mobile connections in the country, a majority of people would log on to the internet through mobile phones than through computers. But what is the use if the target is just a small percentage of English-speaking people? Then we would be leaving 800 million people out of the web.

Local language interface is not only about convenience, it is also about business need. Even the government needs to roll out internet-based citizen services. Today, India is the third largest internet user after China and the US, which has been achieved by targeting only one-fifth of the population consuming content in English. While brand advertisers target the masses by making brand communications in multiple local languages through the print and electronic media, the sky is the limit for the service providers in the digital space.

While some content publishers have been localising content by introducing local languages in their web content, they still use English in the address bars and in logins and passwords. This might make non-English users feel like unwanted guests to the web. It is important for them to type out the URLs in their own language.

One should be able to type out letters using the transliteration option. In fact, CDAC has already initiated the process to turn this into reality – with it, people can read and interact in their native languages. I believe the market is gradually responding to the emerging demand and we are about to witness an explosion in local language content within half a decade.

The writer is Country Head, OLX.in