Here’s how not to capture India in a day

Ridley Scott is asking Indians to capture What they did on October 10 to create a reel of “India in a Day”. Scroll talks about it here . The article shows two Youtube videos. The first one is a concept explication. The second one (scroll down a bit) is “what exactly do they want!”.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/ed0HwXuRfGk“>

Will he able to?

I say this project will yield a very skewed slice of the country . The “urban, left liberal, yuppie anglophone” India. I say this because: See the videos explaining the concept and the example video where the implementing director (some American Desi) is asking people in his very American accent on what he wants them to do.

Watch here:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/EhXqMrqw0BU“>

I am all for people satisfying their creative pursuits. However, I would have appreciated some localization of this effort. Some attempt to make the request a better cultural fit with a wider cross-section of India.

The current video wont appeal to large masses of Indians with bilingual English proficiency. Because they train in English, not in “American”, and at least an American Desi should understand that, if not Ridley Scott.

Let’s wait to see what this turns out into.

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Why mobile Internet in India won’t boom anytime soon?

Haven’t we all been hearing that the Internet boom in India is waiting to happen. We will soon get past the tipping point. We just need to overcome a few barriers. So what are these barriers?  About 10 years ago, it was the lack of a broadband policy, expensive computing. Five years ago lack of availability of inexpensive broadband access.  Finally, the advent of smartphones, it is believed would help India cross both hurdles of access and affordability. I remain skeptical.

I believe all these arguments have focused on the availability of technology itself, not how or why it is expected to be used by the people. It is overtly simplistic to assume that just because more and more mobile users have Internet enabled phones, they would take to the mobile Internet. This may remain a fond hope.

First, lets talk about the cellphones. No one in India or worldwide had expected cellphones to become ubiquitous. Far from it, they were thought to fail. Yet they found their most enthusiastic customers (surprisingly for some) in emerging markets of Asia and Africa, and not the US or UK. To me this was quite unsurprising.

Let’s examine the case of India. There were less than 20 million phones  in the country at the time cellphones first arrived ( a teledensity of about 1  in 1995-96). This is 100 years after the first telephone exchange was setup in the country.  The low teledensity was not because people did not want or could not afford telephones. Most people wanted one, and that too badly.  With one state owned provider, you had to wait years ( often decades) to get a connection ( we got ours in 1994 after applying in 1985 because we were high priority customers, my parents being doctors).

Why did everyone want a phone?  Because everyone had seen it being used. A worker at a grocery store and a restaurant had seen it being used by his owner. A clerk had seen it being used in his office. Even housewives had more than once flocked to STD /PCO booths to convey important messages. The phenomenal success of STD/PCOs in the late 80s and early 90s made every Indian aware of what the telephone can do.

The entry and falling prices of mobile phones was then a sweetly timed co-incidence with the need for a telephone. What more, no waiting lists, no favors to be offered to linesmen, yet you could within days ( or hours) get a working telephone. Soon, everybody knew somebody who had a telephone or a cellphone. Hence 100 years after its first introduction in the country, people were able to get a device they longed for. A device that enabled even the illiterate to communicate! They indeed embraced it, that too in no insignificant measure.

That this burgeoning cellphone population would start accessing Internet on mobile phones is a fairly rational thought. Accessible, affordable and reliable services further the case. Yet, there is one catch.

Unlike  phones, most haven’t longed for the Web. Do they even know what the Internet is or what can it do for them? The computer for them is a device that banks maintain ledgers on or people in big offices use for some official work, or some students use in colleges. Everyone they talk to or want to talk to has a cellphone. By contrast 9 out of 10 people do not use the Internet, fewer use it more frequently than once a month.

Then what about the claim that companies such as Facebook claim that a large chunk of their users (even in India) use the service from mobile devices.  These claims may be perfectly valid. However, how many of these users began using the Internet on their phones? My understanding suggests that most mobile web users are people who are already introduced to the Internet on a regular device, and use the mobile Web in addition to surfing the Web on the computer.

Agreed, for many the phone may have become a primary device for Internet access. However this does not mean that those who remain unexposed to computers and consequently the Internet, will also start using web services on their phone. They have to have the need for that service in the first place. How we develop that need is a matter of another post.Till then, good luck to all those waiting for the Internet in India to boom!

To become comfortable with the new, learn from the old:FaceBook and the Phone-Book

Recently a friend informed me about how she ‘unfriends’ people in her FB list from time to time. These are mostly people who she doesn’t perceive any reason for them to be in her network. I thought she was an odd one out. But a small survey (among my FB network) revealed that 2/3rd of my 50 respondents deleted existing friend connections regularly.

I do admit that my FB network isn’t exactly restricted to friends. Many, in fact are less than acquaintances. If I run through the complete list, I am sure I won’t remember when I last interacted with at least 50% of the people. Worse for about some10% I even won’t know who they are!
However, it never really bothers me that there are people on my Facebook who aren’t really friends or acquaintances. For reasons I will explain here:

Think of a typical social interaction today – Say I meet a friend’s friend at a dinner. We talk and one of us suggests that we stay in touch. The next day s/he sends me an FB request. We never really interact after that and perhaps ever won’t but remain on each others’ FB.
Rewind 5 years – Same people. Similar meeting place. Similar conversations. One suggests we stay in touch. I take out my mobile phone, ask his/her number and give a missed call. Consequently we have each others’ numbers on our cellphone address books.
Rewind 20 years – We pull out our pocket telephone/address diaries and store (write) each others’ contact details down. ( Someone in the group is organized enough to carry a pen or we ask the bearer at the restaurant!)

At what stage did one delete these so called lapsed contacts from one’s phone or a diary. When one ran into space problems, or bought a new phone or a new diary and had to transfer contacts.

FB basically allows you to create a very elaborate phone diary with extensive details (of course access controlled) that you can link to one another. Yes FB in principal is nothing more than a digital manifestation of the good old telephone/address diary. Except that there is no limitations of size or memory.
Thinking of FB as a the new shared, crowd-sourced phone book, you could perhaps stop deleting your unwanted friends.
Of course do not forget to invoke your privacy settings when you add a connection!

The whole point is ‘Lost in Translation’

Web content in vernacular language will work best when it is focused on being in a day to day language, than some words which are technically correct but rarely used

Harsh Taneja – (संपादित करें) – 4 संबंधित साइट – 71 अनुसरणकर्ता
1 और व्यक्ति ने आपका अनुसरण प्रारंभ कर दिया है!

This is the first page of my Google buzz when I made Hindi the primary language of my Google account.
For starred emails they use the words Tarankit.
For saving an email as draft – they say “Abhi Sahejen” . Something as simple as forwarding an email they say “aagroshit karien”.

I consider Hindi as my first language, and have studied it all the way through high school. Yet most of the terms they use were new to me. I could only continue to do these operations, as I have used Gmail long enough in English and know what all the buttons do. Agreed I am no scholar of Hindi, but am not challenged either? Are scholars of Hindi expected to use the internet in Hindi or lay people who are often deprived of any kind of education beyond high school.

Why can’t forward be simply “auron ko bhejo” , starred mail be ” nishan lagao” and so on so forth ?
Ever heard that internet content in local language can help make it more mass. But then it should be the language of the masses and not something that only Hindi teachers will understand.

Tweets as Text Messages: Unresolved questions for low internet penetration markets

I am sorry if the title of this post reads like a research paper, (yes you got it) I will blame it on pressures of Grad school. Anyhow:

There has been a lot of chatter that the power of twitter lies in its integration with mobile devices. More specifically tweets being 140 characters can be easily sent via text messaging. And given that in markets where internet growth has kind of hit a wall ( India) mobile phones and text messaging are growing like wildfire. I believe India has 500 million mobile users now versus some 35 million internet users and my sense is that only a third of these internet users would be accessing the net everyday. As for their cellphones well they wine, dine, move and even sleep with them.

So by signing deals akin to the one they signed recenty with with Bharti Airtel ( India’s largest mobile provider) is Twitter all set to widen its user base? Even if an average twitter user tweets twice a day it will cost him Rs 3, and given that there are 50 people he follows he recieves 100 tweets a day. That’s enough gossip to keep someone satiated . As for Twiter if 10 million people do this (2% of mobile users) and as per a revenue share arrangement with Bharti they earn Rs 0.50 per tweet that is about Rs 10 million a day ( USD 80 million annually) – this is assuming a very conservative user base ( If 9.5 millions are already on Facebook already twitter’s integration with text should give it a much larger user base).
Think Something’s amiss? Read on
Consider two people, Amit and Neha ,18 and 20 years old.(SEC B2) They go to a degree college in Muzzafarpur in Bihar (Imagined Data). They have had mobile phones for some time and by now are fairly hooked to text messaging. However they have never used the internet yet. How will they ever discover the utility of twitter? How will they add friends to follow? They represent 90% of India’s mobile users who (almost) all of whom don’t access the internet.

That said the euphoria surrounding Twitter and mobile devices is not unfounded. Existing users of twitter can tweet more frequently and actively ,on the move. But for the millions of ‘Amits’ and ‘Nehas’ how will they even learn about twitter and appreciate its use in their lives unless they discover it on the Web. The extended usage on mobile can only follow that discovery.