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!


प्रादेशिक भाषाएँ हैं भारत में इन्टरनेट उपयोंग में वृद्धि की कुंजी।

नमस्कार मित्र ,

आजकल अपने phd थेसिस में काफी व्यस्त हूँ । आप में से कुछ लोगों को मालूम होगा कि मेरे अनुसन्धान का विषय  मीडिया, समुदाय और तकनीकी से जुड़ा हुआ है। ख़ास तौर से, अपने थेसिस में मैं इन्टरनेट के उपयोंग में भाषा की भूमिका की जाँच कर रहा हूँ ।

अभी तक मैंने नतीजों के तौर प़र  यह पाया है, कि इन्टरनेट के उपयोंग को बढाने में स्थानीय भाषाओं मे websites का उपलद्ध होना अनिवार्य है। यही नहीं, बल्कि तमाम देशों में कंप्यूटर keyboards और सोफ़्त्वैर भी स्थइनीय भाषाओँ मे उप्लब्ध हैं। यह रुझान केवल फ्रांस,  जेर्मनी इटली जैसे सम्रध देशों में ही नहीं, बल्कि विएतनाम, इंडोनेसिया, तुर्की जैसे विकासशील देशों में भी मैंने देखे हैं।

भारत  में स्थिथि काफी निराशाजनक है। अक्सर कंप्यूटर और अंग्रेजी की कुशलता में सीधा सम्बन्ध देखा जा सकता है । कुछ लोगों केअनुँसर यह समस्या का विषय नहीं है, क्योंकि  हर साक्षर भारतीय को अंग्रेजी आती है। परन्तु यह दावा सच्चाई से बहुत दूर है। पिछले 30 वर्षों में भारत में प्रादेशिक भाषाओँ में समाचार पत्रों,पत्रिकाओं, फिल्मों और टीवी कार्यक्रमों के श्रोताओं में बहुत बढ़त हुई है, जबकि अंग्रेजी मीडिया के दर्शकों में कोई खास वृद्धि नहीं हुई है।

तो इन्टरनेट के उपयोंग में  हम बाकी देशों  के मुकाबले इतना क्यों  पिछड़े हुए हैं ?  मेरे विचार में अगर हम कंप्यूटर शिक्षा और यन्त्र प्रदिशेक भाषा में प्राप्त कराएँ, तो हम इन्तेरेंट के उपयोंग में  काफी वृद्धि देखेंगे । परन्तु हमारे देश के करता धर्ता कभी चाहते ही नहीं हैं कि जो अंग्रेजी नहीं बोल सकता , वो आगे बढे और उनको टक्कर दे। ऐसा उन्होने अंग्रेजों से सीखा है, और हर अंग्रेजी में कुशल इंसान अपने आप को उच्च नागरिक मानता है।

हमें शीघ्र ही स्थिथि को सुधारने के लिए  कुछ करना होगा ।


Typing Emails in Hindi: You need no special fonts or software

Recently I have started typing many emails in Hindi to people I am confident can read the script, comprehend the language and are evolved beyond being anglophiles or snobs who would scoff at having to read Hindi. And by typing in Hindi I don’t mean that I type “aap kaise ho?” in roman script, but actually use the Devanagari script.

Many of them reply to me saying that they don’t have a Hindi software or font or what. But heck they all have gmail accounts. And  Google has a very simple transliteration tool for all those  who want to give this a try. Click here to learn more .

OR I recently had to explain to a friend how to do it and what follows is my original email in Hindi (ignore the spellings):

ईमेल जहां टाइप करते हो, उसके ठीक ऊपर बैएँ ओर एक बटन होगा जिसपे `अ’ या कोई और अक्षर रहेगा, वहां भाषा का चयन कर सकते हो.

जब ईमेल लिखना शुरू करो तो उस बटन को दबा दो
फिर जब तुम अंग्रेजी (रोमन लिपि) में लिखो गे, तो गूगल अपने आप उसे देवनागरी में बदल दे गा.
उद्धरण के रूप में :  तुमने लिखा  Vishal . तो उसने दिखाया विशाल
अगर तुम्हे भाषा चयन करने का बटन नहीं दिख रहा तो ईमेल सेत्तिंग्स में शायद लेब्स में जाके उसे चालू करना होगा
अधिक जानकारी के लिए यहाँ देखो: http://www.google.com/transliterate/about.html


Now you may ask me, that how often do I need to email people who do not use English as the working language in daily life. And I am being an inverse snob! But certain expressions have no easy English versions – for instance when you cook rice and they do not stick at all one says in Hindi – चावल बहुत खिले हुए बने हैं – I cannot concieve an apt way to express this in English! Any ideas?

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.