People will actively seek content in a language they are inherently more familiar with
This is a strong indicator of the way forward for internet companies and search engines hoping to become the internet gateway of choice for vernacular users in India. Of the roughly 769 million regional languages speaking population of India, the number of Hindi speakers is just shy of 50 percent making it the biggest potential market for internet services and content providers.
Despite the fact that the ratio of users accessing vernacular content online in rural India is 64 percent as compared to 25 percent in urban centers, the volume of users is much higher in cities as they hold the bulk of internet subscribers.
A glance at the evolutionary timeline of the internet and it should surprise no one that English has always been and still remains the dominant language of internet content providers as well as technology developers. In the early 1960's, J. Licklider's pioneering research for DARPA established the origins of the internet, it has metamorphosed into one of the most indispensable medium of communication in the modern world.
While the concept of the internet reached Indian shores through services offered by VSNL in 1995, narrow-band connections severely stunted the growth of adoption and subscribers in India. All this changed with the formulation of the national broadband policy in 2005 and received a further stimulus with the 3G and 4G spectrum auctions in the past couple of years.
The multiple decades that it has taken the bulk of our population to gain access to the internet means that a large set of users who prefer vernacular languages have been left out along this journey. This is not to say that there a complete lack of vernacular content, but that it has much catching up to do.
Today, Internet penetration in India works out to nearly 10 times the population of Australia. India has around 200 million internet users today and it is expected to grow by 243 million by June 2014, making it the second largest user base after China. Numbers published by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India showed that more than 50 percent of mobile phones sold in 2012 were smart phones and number of internet mobile subscribers is a mammoth 381 million.
Apart from fixed line internet services, native Hindi internet users are also making great strides in the mobile and smart phone market. The smart phone market is unparalleled amongst the developing economies. It has grown to 12.8 units per 100 in the third quarter of 2013 and the market has grown by 229 percent year on year which is good news for vernacular search portals.
Many smart phone manufacturers in India have started offering Hindi as an optional language to access the device as well as to access the internet on phone. Dependence on mobiles and smart phones is uniformly increasing in rural India as an important point of access. The pre-disposition of humans to converse and seek information in their language of thought means the bulk of the vernacular language speaking population will actively seek content in a language they are inherently more familiar with.
India has become the epicenter of the small and medium business phenomenon. Current estimates show that there are approximately 8 million SMBs and almost 45 percent of India's exports are dependent on small businesses. Add to this a large number of people that find employment in professions like agriculture and government services. By and large, the applications that are most used by regional language users include emails, search engines and news content, text chat, matrimonial services and online banking services.
In rural areas, the report shows a bias in favor of sites offering government services, land records and private initiatives such as eChoupal, which provides aggregated information of interest to farmers and facilitates sale of farm produce. There is also a concentrated push by internet companies to encourage more women to get online with a number of media campaigns targeted at women on the anvil.
This will seem like just the tip of iceberg if in the future areas of exponential internet growth like ecommerce and social media advent into the vernacular domain. To make this advent of ecommerce and social media into vernacular domain a reality content aggregators and search engines with more refined and focused offerings are making the access to the content a lot easier for the vernacular user and it is these reasons that make this segment an exciting one to watch out for.