In 1999, Webdunia was the first Hindi portal in the world, and by the end of 2000 the portal was available in four languages – Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil. The portal has now been revamped and since June 4, it is additionally available in Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Kannada and Punjabi.
Speaking about the achievements of the portal, Jaideep Karnik, Head-Content and Localisation, Webdunia, said, “During the seven years, from 2000 to 2007, we were working on localising our content. With the use of Unicode we have been able to offer nine languages, and thus have a better penetration among the masses.”
Karnik, who has been associated with Webdunia since its inception, explains how the biggest challenge was about language. “We realised that people in smaller towns and villages had access to Internet, but were not able to use it satisfactorily and to its optimum because it was in English. Only a small percentage of people can read, write and are comfortable with English. A vast majority of Indians prefer their own mother tongues.” Interestingly, Microsoft had already encoded 30 languages by the time they started work for Hindi language in 2000.
Karnik is of the view that although Webdunia has taken a quantum leap in making the Internet user-friendly for those who are comfortable in languages other than English, there is still a lot to be done in the Internet domain in India for language users.
Webdunia’s channels like those on Bollywood, lifestyle, religion, science, IT, career, astrology, literature, etc, have made a significant presence among its users. Live cricket commentary, tickers and Webdunia poll are some of the other highlights of the portal.
The news content on each of the language sites is made to be specific to the area in which that particular language is prominent. Thereby, localisation takes place for every region, according to the language. Karnik further said that NRIs, who had become loyalists, now did the work of stringers in contributing any relevant news to the portal.
When asked about the idea of convergence in media, Karnik replied, “We have also integrated mobile and the Internet. We have a shortcode of 3434, whereby various kinds of information can be availed on mobile phones. But the problems surface when the handsets are not language compliant. Only the Nokia N-series is able to facilitate varied language usage, and only some service providers are able to provide the content. But then again, our core target audience is in the tier II and III towns of India. So there is a definite disconnect in the economies that govern such new technological developments.”
“The other areas that we are hoping to make key developments in are blogs and e-cards, as well as improving the features, in terms of technology. Blogs are available in very few languages and we want more people to have access to them and contribute to them. Similarly, we have seen that the NRI community loves to receive cards in their own languages. The essence of being in touch with the roots is what we want to tap, and e-cards in varied languages is what we want to develop, which would have regional and cultural flavours,” Karnik elaborated.
“When we had just four languages, we received 65 million page views per month. When we revamped the site to incorporate additional five languages on June 4, we got a tremendous response. We have received feedback from our users that although they are not savvy with English, they are hooked onto the Internet because of us. This indeed is a great compliment and reinforcement that our efforts are being appreciated,” said Karnik.
He further said that the vision of Webdunia for the next five to 10 years was to improve the technical features and content. “We hope to expand to other Indian languages and offer all those features that other English portals provide as also make our content more localised.”