Ajit Balakrishnan’s comment “Let us not assume users want Indian languages” got me to think why people think Indian languages are not “wanted” on the internet. I wasn’t at that conference, so I don’t know what was exactly said. My thoughts and reactions are completely based on Medianama’s post.
It is wrong to assume Indian languages are not a wanted commodity just because a particular language product (in this case, the language support on rediffmail) hasn’t done well. Also it is important to understand the language product may not be bad at all. In my opinion the time has not arrived for the usage of Indian language in email.
Writing And Reading Are Different
Oneindia.com has been publishing language content since April 2000. I have seen how this entire vertical has evolved first hand. During the initial years about 80-90% of our language traffic was from outside India (NRIs). Post 2006, 60% of our language traffic is from India (I am averaging across all languages). The readership in India has grown because of the growth in Internet user base (40m or 60m – whatever).
I have maintained for a very long time that users wanted to ‘read’ our content and very few wanted to write in the language. Most of our feedback mails were in English (pre-2006). With the introduction and popularization of Unicode I believe the usage of languages on the net has grown. These days most of the comments on our site and feedback emails are in the language.
If Google India did not believe in Indian languages I doubt they would have released several products that support Indic. And they continue to invest heavily on Indic.
Is UGC the only yard stick to measure success?
The passion of writing in the language on the net varies from language to language. That is the way it is and we have accepted it. Everyone talks about UGC (user generated content). Many feel just because UGC in language is not as big as English (as of now) they have inferred language is not wanted on the net. Wrong. I say this with confidence only because I am in that space and I have seen the userbase grow year on year. Yes, we would have loved it to be bigger but then we got to understand we need to wait for internet penetration to increase. It will. We have been patient for 10 years, can’t we wait for another 2 years?
In Print, language newspapers and magazine have good and sizable circulation. My parents read many Kannada newspapers and magazines, but they rarely (or could be ‘never’) write in Kannada, does that mean Kannada print medium is not successful? Obviously not.
Don’t get me wrong about UGC. I love it and we are seeing the growth of UGC on our portals in the form of comments and articles. All I am saying is don’t use UGC as the only yard stick. Language blogs are popular these days and it is the best example of UGC.
Mobile And Indian Languages
On the mobile we have made our language content available on WAP and mobile apps. Our user base in both mediums have grown but we don’t receive any feedback in the language from mobile handsets. For now I believe it is going to be that way. We are concentrating on increasing the user base of readers on the mobile, there will be a day when users will be writing in languages on the mobile, we got to wai.t
To make the long story short, a portal can always be successful if it has a huge reading community. Oneindia.in is one such portal but as a bonus we have a very satisfactory user base which also writes in the language.