How important are sites in vernacular languages?

Internet penetration growth rate is among the fastest in the world in India. But everyone knows its going to hit a plateau if the main Internet language remains English. Sure enough, there are portals like rediff, yahoo, msn, google and others who have started offering content in Hindi and other languages. But if you go hunting for any real information, it seems like the amount of activity that a person can do on the Internet with Hindi (or any other local language) as a language is rather limited. Limited to reading news.

Think of what a person from a small town/village who does not understand much English can do. Read newspapers? Why would anyone want to log onto Internet and read news? Google recently launched blogger in Hindi. Will the “critical mass” really want to log onto Internet and start blogging? Guruji.com has recently launched a Hindi interface for their search engine that indexes and searches web pages written in Hindi. Let’s consider a case where someone from a small town is visiting Delhi and wants to find out information about Delhi. So he/she logs onto Internet and searches for “New Delhi” in Hindi. What do they get? A few spam sites and few blogs that have the keyword “New Delhi” in their content, but no really helpful information about New Delhi. If a basic scenario like this cannot be fulfilled, I guess it’s time we need more serious players offering vernacular content. How about the situation where a non-English Internet user wants to do a transaction – like buy a rail ticket or a plane ticket or buy something online. Well, tough luck – most current ecommerce sites seem to be happy providing content and transaction in English only interface. How about few other popular sites that are hit in the Indian market like a job search portal or a matrimony site? Same story, most of them are happy catering to English audience only.

Hmm, makes me think – how important is Hindi really for an Internet company in India today? Should they care about non-English users at all? Actually, let’s take a step back – do non-English users care about Internet? Chicken and egg? Where is the tipping point?

4 thoughts on “How important are sites in vernacular languages?”

  1. Madhur,
    I agree with most of your points.
    I still feel things will improve over the next 2-3 years.
    Government, both central & State will start providing information in local languages.
    (http://www.licindia.com/Hindi/index.htm )

    Most Indian Language sites are not in Unicode-based UTF8 Format.
    Google & Guruji has addressed this issue by translating the non UTF8 site information
    to the UTF-8 standard and do all the processing necessary to provide links to these sites.

    Regarding the Job portals, most caters to the IT Jobs & Executive jobs.
    Hence, there is scope for a newcomer to provide Job listing for “Aam Aadmi” in local language
    or aggregate data from Government sites.

    In case you missed,
    Matrimonial portal Jeevansathi has a hindi version
    http://www.jeevansathi.com/hindi
    BharatMatrimony has various Indian language editions.
    http://www.hindimatrimony.com/hindi-index.html

    Ravi
    http://www.हिन्दी.com

  2. @Ravi,
    You have raised a valid point that most of the sites are not using Unicode. I still wonder why they are using proprietary technologies like Font Embedding which will only work in IE and Netscape browsers. The only advantages here is it will even work in IE5 on a Windows 98 machine.
    Though the user is getting a Indic language interface they are missing out following advantages
    1. Search engines can index Unicode data and not embedded font data. So, they are staying away from search engines.
    2. Device independence is not possible unless they switch to Unicode.

    @Madhur,
    I think there will be a huge demand for indic language sites, especially media websites.

  3. Everyone is saying we need this on the basis of demographic and usage patterns. I am yet to see a convincing study that proves the point. I think, most of the non-english junta do not care about Internet unless their job requires it. Outside of job, ATM is a great example of computer interaction. We need more interaction points like this in day to day life. Post offices, train stations, e-governance. more scenarios?

  4. Usage of vernacular languages or regional languages(we shouldnt call our own languages vernacular & differencite own :)) will be limited to gaining some information like news, community sites like matrimonial or so. English is widely used and is becoming largest used language slowly in day to day life. Government initiated efforts like eGovernance or so are most of time showoffs and craze as even in todays date most of sr officials are not computer literate so that one big obstacle in all eGov kind of efforts.

    But of course for information to reach to every common man in our country we should have content available in all regional languages.
    Its a pity cdac came up with gist like editor but never opened indian localisation pandora box technically or published framework level stuff for every indian usage.

    regional languages definitely have potential of increasing and attracting masses to information for sure.

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