Building digital democracy through Indian languages

Industry experts discuss democratising India’s Internet through a tech policy from the government

by exchange4media Staff
Published - Sep 24, 2018 8:54 AM Updated: Sep 24, 2018 8:54 AM

While digital democracy is a fascinating idea, it cannot be achieved without multilingual Internet access. The Indian market is yet to arrive at a stage where local languages earn a strong place in the digital space. As of now, English continues to be the dominating language on Internet.

At a panel dialogue organised during an event in New Delhi recently, industry experts discussed about democratising India’s Internet through changing tech policies and few other means. The experts talked about the probable befitting measures to bring about an explosion of Indian languages online so that a business built on a local language is not ignored for one built on English.

Moderating the session was Menaka Doshi, Managing Editor, BloombergQuint, who questioned the panel on whether there was a need for a tech public policy support or the market opportunity was enough to be able to drive innovation, growth and monetisation to democratise India’s Internet.

Responding to this, Manish Dhingra, Co-Founder, Director & CEO, Mediology Software, agreed that the market is huge, as around 500 million new Indian language users would be coming online by 2021 in India. He said, “Indian entrepreneurs do need tech public policy but they seldom expect anything coming from the government. We find our own way out at times, as entrepreneurs are known for being good at analysing the potential in the market. But having a public policy will surely speed up the process.” Having said that, Dhingra also talked about government’s active role in the payment space that worked out well for the public.

Speaking on the need for a public policy, Ankush Sachdeva, Co-founder & CEO, ShareChat, was of the opinion that such policies would always prove to be beneficial for a firm. Sachdeva said, “There’s need of a pro-active approach from the government’s end to figure out the target audience specific to online platforms and thereby push content accordingly to those platforms. With the support of the government, growth of companies built on regional languages can always be up-scaled easily.”

Discussing the specific areas in which government should enable local language Internet, Sourabh Gupta, Co-founder & CEO, Vernacular.ai, said while companies in the private sector are looking to build apps for the public, government should help them have access to the widely decentralised data required for their projects, by collating it on a single platform.

In order to create India’s Internet, Arvind Pani, Co-founder & CEO of Reverie Language Technologies, pitched for government’s involvement in resolving issues at the infrastructure level. According to Pani, there is an urgent need for a strong representation body that can define standards for Indian languages. He expects the government to contribute a lot more at the fundamental block building level.

Shifting focus to the level of innovation in private sector firms such as Google & Facebook etc to scale up local language Internet in India, Doshi questioned the panellists if there were any shortcomings that needed to be overcome. Responding to this, Pani pointed out at how the focus on local languages has been quite low so far. With respect to innovation, he said that it could come from both big and small companies. Citing Sharechat’s example, he mentioned how start-ups were looking at building products keeping in mind India, the multilingual land and not primarily an English-speaking country.

Sharing the challenges that ShareChat had to face, Sachdeva said, “It was difficult to attract capital as most investors were not keen on spending on an app that engaged in local content be it Hindi or any other language.” However, in such a scenario, Jio was a big enabler that opened up a huge moment for India, following which various big firms endorsed the new Indian Internet users surfing in local languages.

According to Dhingra, the biggest challenge Mediology Software had to face while working with Indian language publishers was monetisation. Despite their user base being large, they struggled with monetisation. He said the needle turned for them when Google increased the number of Indian languages that could be monetised. Contributing to the discussion, Gupta re-iterated the need for a tech public policy that can expedite both online transactions and the process of consuming content.

Apart from discussing the need for a tech public policy, the panel also shared inputs on whether e-commerce was enabled fully in local languages for Indians & if not, was lack of trust in its buying capacity in the market a major reason behind it.

Gupta, meanwhile, pointed out that lack of expertise in the local language domain was one of the major reasons behind the slow growth of local language Internet. He then said how computational linguistics and language experts could help overcome the challenges. Sachdeva from ShareChat was of the view that the government could play a crucial role in incentivising highly experienced people working for big firms abroad to come back to India and help build solutions for growth of India’s Internet.

The session was organised by Quint-Hindi & Google India.

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