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Thursday, 25 December 2014

The future of digital is vernacular, and it's already here

Bright Angles is involved in an interesting project for a client working in the digital space in vernacular language mobile applications. With his permission, we will be sharing some of the consumer insights from this project on our blog, in the coming weeks.

But right now, there are a lot of questions that I would like to raise, and start a debate on the status of vernacular language digital content in India. Here are the questions, accompanied by some facts and figures:

1) At the heart of the Indian government's Digital India project is the national broadband project aimed at connecting 2.5 lakh village panchayats through high-speed broadband by 2017. Merely connecting them is not enough - we need to start thinking of the content and applications that will be available on this platform. That includes e-governance, health, agriculture, financial applications and more. What are the innovative public-private partnerships that can both create, and reap the benefit of this opportunity?

2) India has the third largest base of internet users in the world, at 243 million. Way behind China, with 600 million + users. Internet penetration in India is less than 20%, China is rapidly approaching 50% penetration. The 'digital gap' in India vs. China is a reminder of how far behind we are lagging. What China did differently from us was to create local language equivalents of every major digital channel, from search, to Twitter, to e-commerce, to chat. Why did no one do this in India? Why did we always think digital = English speaking? This elitist stance is very alien to a country where mass media advertising is routinely made for vernacular, mass India, as are local language movies.

3) India has around 100 million people who speak English fluently, and an estimated 300 million people who are "English users". Research indicates that all English users in the country are already online. If Google, Facebook etc are looking at India and other Asian markets for the 'next billion', how will we add them, unless we include local language speakers?

4) Who will create the local language content? Will it be a straight off translation from English pages and applications? Or will we have people who think vernacular (just like scriptwriters for serials and movies) who can design intelligently for local language? Who will have the sensitivity to differentiate an app that is made for a more literate market vs a less literate one?

Many questions, yet to be answered. But figuring out the answers is going to be a huge learning experience!