Posts filed under search

India Internet - status check

Written by: Madhur

On Jul 17th, 2007

comScore recently came out with a report on the Indian Internet industry. Here are some of my observations and thoughts:

Search engines - One of the popular category of sites. This category pretty much reflects the global trends in terms of the popularity of search engines. (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Ask). The interesting thing to note here is that there is no Indian company in the list. Given the variety of different cultures and languages in India, one might think local players might have an edge if they really tried. Currently though, most of the Internet population is English, but this is certainly going to change as the penetration increases. If Chinese search engine Baidu is anything to go by, there is certainly room for a local player in India too. And hey, its not like no one is trying. But frankly, other than Guruji, no one seems to be anywhere close to the standards of the big global players. We have talked about Guruji here and here, let’s see how they progress in the coming years.

Portal/Services - A popular category from the Web 1.0 era. The sites in this category either have day-to-day utility or entertainment value. Lot of early local players here from the 90’s, yet only a few established ones. Google, Yahoo, MSN are again the big players, although the good news here is that there are at least a handful local players in the sector.
news/entertainment/communication - rediff, timesnetwork and sify - decent content but poor user experience (broken links, popup ads, flashy ads)
classifieds - This is one category which has achieved the best success rate as far as the local players are concerned. One of the reasons is the demographics that is online in India and the fact that these players jumped on to the opportunity quite early in the game and more importantly stuck it out at the time of dotcome burst. Naukri, Shaadi, Bharatmatrimony, etc. are a few examples. A few promising sites in this space - mapmyindia (maps and directions), onyomo (local yellow page listings)

Social networking / web2.0 - A rapidly growing category. Very few decent Indian sites. Mostly dominated by the likes of Orkut, Facebook, Youtube etc. Again this is a category where one would think a local player can gain an edge as they would presumably understand the sensibilities of the youth better. Like I mentioned above, once English ceases to remain the predominant language on the web, more possibilities will open up. A few promising startups in this space - Minglebox, burrp.

Ecommerce - My personal favorite but not a popular category in India yet. We really need to catch up here if Internet has to sustain. The reason is simple - the most popular business model on the Internet is advertisments and for ads you need companies who are ready to advertise in the first place. Yes offline companies do want to advertise online, but there is only so much they will do. Real spending will come only from ecommerce players as they can directly affect the sales/branding using this form of advertising. We are seeing growth in this category. Check out some good articles on this space at Darpan Munjal’s blog. Travel is definitely a hot sector which already has a bunch of players (makemytrip, yatra, travelguru, cleartrip etc.) followed by entertainment (seventymm). The next big sector is retail which is currently dominated by Ebay India, but definitely expect to see some action here. IndiaPlaza.in and Futurebazaar are upcoming players. Remains to be seen who will emerge out as the Amazon of India (how about Amazon India itself?)

While on this topic, you might want to check out an interesting discussion here about why Indian companies are lagging behind global players (as opposed to Chinese, Korean, European markets). You can read the complete article for details, but the summary is that dominance of English language and poor user experience of Indian sites are the two main reasons.

Conclusion
India Internet has come a long way just in the last 3-4 years, but I think we are still in early stages. It might still take some time to reach the maturity level of more developed markets. To me, it looks more like the pre-bubble period (’97-98) of the US market. A lot of investment is happening, user base is increasing, new companies are coming up - things seem to be moving in the right direction. What are your thoughts?

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Will you bet on Local Search ?

Written by: Vivek Garg

On Feb 26th, 2007

Local search has been a very interesting challenge and alot of old and new companies are taking a stab. Lets look at this entire continuum and where each player sits. Radical idea is to find information that is geo tagged. This information can be as granular as lat-long or as coarse as a city name. So when you setup a shop to solve local search, first question is how do you collect & tag this information? How do you present this informaton so that it creates the most wholesome experience? How do you make money from this high investment business?

You can start with smart-crawling the web. I call it smart crawling because you dont crawl everything like a general purpose search engine. You need to identify and extract local information given a webpage. Dedupe listings that occurs on multiple pages. Lets says you write a kickass neural network that labels & classify this information. How does it know which one is real address? How do you verify the information you have is correct? You start thinking about this and realize that there are directory listing services that is accumulating such information forever. So you get feeds from yellow pages. There is a problem of matching different feed formats along with crawled information. This is where most of the current search engines are today. Google/Yahoo/Live/Guruji can do “crawl + feeds” using existing infrastructure.

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tolmolbol - newest entrant in your local community

Written by: Vivek Garg

On Feb 25th, 2007

We recently spoke to tolmolbol, one of the newer players in India trying to make a mark in online local community/search space. This space is already crowded with the names like Ilaaka, Burrp, Onyomo, Sulekha. Ourcity and Guruji. Not to forget Google, Yahoo and Live search are/will be joining this game in India. This space now officially qualifies for “Indian fragmentation syndrome” similar to travel & DVD rental. Opportunity is there but not enough to attract a national play. Lot of smaller companies will trail the blaze and accumulate disjoint information about various localities in India. This should eventually get consolidated and customers are going to be benefitted with yet another addition. Here is tolmolbol (this name reminds me of tol-mol-ke-bol - the famous game show based on Monty hall problem), but that is just me.

1. What motivated you to start this venture?

The biggest motivation for starting tolmolbol stemmed from our frustration with not being able to find and locate dependable information about our localities. We couldn’t find a single online resource that provided a directory of local businesses and services across Indian cities. There was no platform at a national level for Indians to collectively voice their opinions about local businesses. And we were fed up with experiencing first-hand the indifferent attitude of service providers towards customers. Furthermore, there was no single portal for the entire neighborhood where members of the community could share tips, post classifieds, communicate events, meet interesting people in their vicinity or leverage the knowledge of their local social networks. tolmolbol is the outcome of our effort to address all of these problems.

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Making of Naukri.com

Written by: Madhur

On Jan 31st, 2007

Rediff has this detailed interview with the CEO of Info Edge Sajeev Bikhchandani, where he talks about about the eventful journey of Naukri.com. Its a typical story how legends are made - clear vision, immaculate execution, unperturbed perseverance and a bit of luck - leading his way from rags to riches, garage to IPO (the first for an Indian Internet company in Indian markets)

Key takeaways from the interview:

  1. Idea: Saw a real opportunity from his own experience. Notice at first his idea was just to aggregate all the job listings - computer and later the Internet just happened to be the medium to realize the idea.
  2. Funding at the right time: Like he says, this may be just his luck, but he raised money right before the bust happened, as a result of which, he used the money much more frugally compared to what a lot of other companies were doing at the time.
  3. Early mover: Was one of the first Internet companies that targeted Indians in India, more importantly for something that people cared about, not just to copy one of the ideas straight from the West and hope to get lucky.
  4. Persistence: Waited for 10+ years before he drew any salary from the company. That requires quite a bit of determination. But like he says, doing what you really want to (with some alternate source of money to make ends meet) really keeps you going.
  5. Risk: It’s interesting - he makes conflicting statements at two different places (unless I am misunderstanding something) in the interview. At one place he says real risk is often times less than that perceived risk and then the converse of it at another place. But the bottom line is that you have to evaluate your risks before making the jump and over time you will manage to find your cushions and buffers.

I will say though that Naukri.com being the poster child of Indian Internet success, could do with some makeover in the UI. The overall impression the sites gives on the first look is as if its 5 years behind the times. If nothing else, stop those annoying popups and remove those flashing gifs from bulletin board on either side of the page.

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10 predictions for year 2007

Written by: Vivek Garg

On Dec 31st, 2006

I have been thinking about the predictions that I want to make for the upcoming year. Predicting is a tricky business unless you are inspired by Nostradamus. First few things that come to mind if you tried predicting about the consumer Internet industry in India are : “mobile 2.0 will lead the way to web 2.0″ or “more investments in booming industry” or “we will see increased M&A”. These predictions are either extended state of our present or they are generally true. So with the risk of sounding really stupid from iLeher camp, we put forward 10 specific predictions for year 2007. We tried to make them as specific as possible. Remember predicting is tough. But I am hoping this will get the dialogue started and we could encourage others to dare predict what they think will happen in future.     

1. Broadband growth in India will continue to disappoint by not showing an exponential growth. As against the target of 3 million broadband connections till 2005 end, only 0.18 million were achieved. At end-October, the total number of broadband connections stood at 1.92 million. The target till 2007-end is 9 million and 143 million by end of 2010.

2. WiMax will not be able to solve the last mile challenge; instead we will see a realistic alternative in cellular. Surge in Wi-Fi enabled devices will increase the number of ways people get online.

3. Airline tax cuts will boost travel industry further in 2007. Better taxation model will lower the net cost of flying around in India. This will increase the volume for travel portals. Too many players will lead to lower margins on each transaction.

4. Introductions of DVR in Indian markets with onset of Set Top boxes and DTH - people will no longer have to sit through painful ads to watch their favorite soaps. Set-top boxes will increase the market share of VOD. Find a detail post on various movie distribution channels here .

5. Online maps and local data will become commonplace. People will start using street maps and peer reviews of local destinations. It will lead consumers to online directions and use of map for their travel. This will benefit local search players like mapmyindia, burrp, onyomo. Google has recently started offering street level maps in India. At least a few of the big players like yahoo/msn/google/rediff/indiatimes will start offering local search in India.

6. ATMs everywhere will become a platform for ad placement, movie tickets and quick data shopping. This will cause increased computer literacy of Indian populace. Indian Railways is already extending the use of Internet to assist passenger’s book e-tickets over the ATM.

7. Mobile payment and mobile ticketing will hit mainstream. This will lead the ecommerce players to take mobile interface more seriously.

8. We will find Indians spending more time playing games (mobile, PC and console). Zapak.com will find itself well positioned. We will see players entering the gaming arena.

9. At least some online DVD rental companies and travel portals will realize the importance of offline presence and will tie up with local retailers and local travel agents for convenience of non-Internet savvy population.

10. iLeher will continue building a community of young professionals trying to make sense of the complex web of events relating to Indian Internet industry. Read our about page if you are interested in being a part of this community.

Your comments/suggestions and predictions are most welcome.     

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Movers and Shakers of Year 2006

Written by: Madhur

On Dec 27th, 2006

It’s that time of the year. Everyone is writing about the best of 2006. We thought it would be nice to look back at the happenings in the industry in the past year. Here is a collection of news that made the headlines in 2006.

THE News
The biggest event of the year was undoubtedly the IPO of Info-Edge (group owning Naukri, 99acres, JeevanSathi). This event has heralded a new era in the consumer Internet industry in India as it became the first Internet company ever to be listed on an Indian Stock Exchange. We hope to see some more companies to follow suit in the coming few years to keep the rally going. Some of the probable followers include the Shaadi group, BharatMatrimony group and the online travel companies.

Investments
Lot of money has poured in the market in 2006. As Venture Intelligence reports, VCs have made 53 early-stage investments in start-ups in India worth $355 million during the first nine months of 2006. That’s still nearly twice as much activity in that period than the two previous years combined. Here is a partial list of the investors and their portfolio companies.The leading sector in terms of investments has been without any doubt - Travel. Makemytrip, Yatra, TravelGuru, Cleartrip are some of the big names in this sector and all of them have already taken their second rounds of funding this year. The biggest of the VC’s from Silicon Valley including Sequoia, KPCB, Matrix, Norwest, etc. have made their presence felt in India. Some of the other companies that attracted big investments included online DVD rental company SeventyMM, leading community portal Sulekha, India specific search engine Guruji.com and online tutoring company TutorVista.

M&A
The only one that we know of is the acquisition of web2.0 companies Bixee and Pixrat by MIH networks. We hope to see more activity in this sector in order to sustain the bullish web2.0 scene and the overall ecosystem.

Web2.0
Although we raised our own concerns about the sustainability of web2.0 companies, this has been the most active sector because of obvious reasons - low barrier to entry both in terms of technology and investment. Following the trend from the West, loads of startups are trying to make a mark in social networking scene including photo sharing, video sharing, news/events sharing. Here is a partial list of companies trying to fight it out to acquire whatever small percent of users and advertising revenue that is available in the Indian market today.

Fun facts and figures

  • Airline ticket customers formed 40% of online shoppers in India, followed by books comprising with 29% and music at 24% of the total purchases. 30,000 Indians buy travel tickets online everyday.
  • The number of online shoppers in India rose 7% to 3.49 million in the first half of 2006 from 3.27 million a year earlier.
  • High-speed connections in India more than doubled to 1.92 million at the end of October from 690,000 in the year 2005.
  • Desktops account for 80 per cent of the total personal computer market as compared to 20 per cent of laptops. The latter will grow at over 100 per cent from 431,834 units sold in 2005-06 to 863,668 units in 2006-07 as compared to desktop sales growing at 22 per cent from 4,164,724 units in 2005-06 to 5,676,111 units in 2006-07.
  • The number of total Internet users in India stands at 35 million currently; out of this 10 million are considered to be “power users”.

Next?
Overall, 2006 was an active year full of excitement in the industry among investors, entrepreneurs and of course the users of the Internet themselves. The year has kicked in the enthusiasm required for bootstrapping the so called “Silicon Valley in India“. 2007 is going to be very important to take these early developments to the next level towards realizing the Silicon Valley dream. At the risk of sounding obvious, increase in Internet penetration (esp. broadband) is on the top of my wish list for 2007. Without the Internet users equipped with good connection speed, industry cannot go much further. Other than that I think eCommerce really needs a boost because that is the main driver of the Internet economy. More eCommerce, more advertising dollars, more business models and more companies.

Where do you think the industry is heading from here? What’s in your wish list?

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Exclusive interview with CEO of Guruji.com

Written by: Madhur

On Nov 9th, 2006

I wrote about Guruji.com on the very first day of their press release and then followed up with another post clarifying on what they are doing. My initial response was skeptic as I didn’t quite get what their value proposition was. Local search definitely sounded like an opportunity but that clearly wasn’t their main (or only) focus. In the Indian content search area, Google.co.in already seemed to be doing a good enough job. I am sure some of you would have got similar doubts, but hey, they are backed by Sequoia and generated quite a bit of buzz in the media. I had a chat with Anurag Dod, their CEO and asked a few questions to clarify some of the doubts (Update: added conclusion at the end - due to some technical snag, missed adding this when first posted the article)

What is your biggest value proposition?
We want to be the one stop shop for anyone search anything related to India. Be it India related content or Indian city specific data. “Think India - Think Guruji”. This access to any type of information from one search box will provide a significant value add for the users.

On the web, where do you find the most relevant “India” specific content? Does this mean data from sites hosted in India or sites with .in or .co.in extension or something else?
We have a technology that classifies Indian content as it looks a web pages. Based on this technology we decide if the page is Indian or not (in which case we do not include them in our index). Our web crawl is focused to get only Indian content and the premise is that any good Indian content anywhere will be linked from the initial set that we start with (and this set keeps on changing as our team keeps modifying that). As a result we are able to index the most relevant Indian content from the web with less resources and refresh the data frequently.

How do you differentiate from Google/Yahoo/MSN India search?
One clear difference is that none of them provide local city data. Another thing is that when you search for Indian content on Google.co.in, you get some relevant results on “web search” and some relevant results on “pages from India”. Also you get different and maybe relevant results when you search from Google.com by appending your search with “india” keyword. As a result, users are confused as to what is the best way to search for Indian content and this where Guruji is different. You can search for anything India related from one search box without any confusion.

Don’t you think Google can realize this problem and take actions to fix this confusing experience of searching Indian content?
We definitely cannot discount Google as they are big and smart, but we will have the early mover advantage which will keep users coming back to our site.

How will you start building user base considering that Google already has a strong foothold in search in India?
As we keep on adding more features for India specific searches, there will be more and more reasons for people to switch. Also another major point is that currently the Indian Internet population stands at roughly 30 million and is expected to increase to 100+ million in the coming few years. We plan to go after these new users who are going to come online as well, which is going to be very important for increasing the search share.

Do you plan to support searching for regional language content on the web?
Yes, as the number of Internet users increase there will be more and more regional language content and more users wanting to search for that. We plan to introduce support for searching regional language in the coming few months. This is another area where lot of the other big search engines do not have a presence.

What will be your main business model?
We plan to roll out our own Google Adword’s like sponsored listings program in the next couple of months. One of the advantages for advertisers using our advertising program will be that their ads will get exposure to Indians who are searching for India related content (like “gifts to India”) from outside India as well. This advantage is not there for advertisers using Google.co.in for advertising as people performing Indian related search from outside of India may be using Google.com or their own country’s Google version.

What do you think of competition from other players in local search area?
We realize that there will be more and more competition from local players like Onyomo (local city specific data search) and others. A lot of these startups in local search today lack comprehensiveness. They have good depth but less breadth. Guruji will keep improving web search for Indian content as this is our core focus, but we will also add features like maps and make the city specific data more and more comprehensive to compete in the local search market. Also at Guruji, we have integrated results for web search and local search, so users get all their India specific search results at one place.

How has been the uptake of Guruji.com so far?
We have received a good amount of traffic since launch. It has clearly met our expectations. We have observed a very good number of users coming back to the site after their first visit. We will continue to focus on making our technology better to provide good user experience, which will help in getting more users through word of mouth marketing. We also plan to launch more marketing activities to create buzz for attracting new users.

iLeher Bottomline
I think they have the right ideas, but beating Google in the search game will be a Herculean task, esp. if/when they become serious about search in India. I have discussed quite a bit in the previous posts that getting the most ‘relevant’ Indian content could be tricky. For e.g. when searching for “Taj Mahal” I do want to see article from Wikipedia as a top result, which I do not on Guruji right now, but do on Google (granted it may be in their plan and may take some time for these type of technological issues to be ironed out).

They do have an advantage that market is still in the nascent stages as a result of which relevant, more targeted and comprehensive search results (including local and regional content) coupled with clever marketing (for e.g. deals with local PC manufacturers to make Guruji as homepage, campaigns targeted towards new Internet users) can definitely help them in making some inroads. Also here is an opportunity for players in local search (onyomo, makemyindia, etc.) to be comprehensive and win traffic in the local search vertical to give Guruji a run for their money and become potential candidates for takeovers (by Google/Yahoo/MSN or Guruji itself!)

Related posts:
Guruji.com: Baidu of India?
Guruji.com: Web search or local search?

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Search engines in different languages, different interfaces

Written by: Madhur

On Oct 25th, 2006

Search engines seem to be the flavor of this festive season in India. There has been quite a bit of discussion on local search engines in the last couple of weeks with the launch of Guruji.com. We covered that in enough details here and here. Two important things came out of the discussions:

  1. Search engines will start indexing and providing ways to search local languages content as they become more and more popular on the web.
  2. To get mass users to adopt their service in the shorter term, search engines will need to provide alternate interface such as mobile access.

In this post, I bring to light a few services that have taken the first step in doing the above. Note that I am NOT doing a complete review of these services here, I am just highlighting interesting things keeping in mind the above two points.

Vernacular search engines
Raftaar
This is a search engine that indexes Hindi content on the web and provides a way to query Hindi words. It provides two modes of input for entering Hindi words. One way is to enter English characters of how that word would be spelled if it was an English word. Although this is a nice feature to have, not sure how useful it will be in reality because if someone can figure out the English spelling for a word, they most probably will know enough English to understand the content in English itself, unless they are specifically looking for Hindi content. The other way to enter Hindi queries is using the Hindi typepad that is provided on the homepage. These modes may be slow to work with right now, but when Hindi content on the web really increases that much, Hindi keyboards will be more popular after which mode of input will not be a problem. Other than regular web search features, one of the useful things that I think they can do to really improve the search experience is smartly include nearby words in search (words that are spelled very similar, because in Hindi spellings can be tricky). Interesting to know that they are already getting about 5000 hits per day, more details here.

Bhramara
This search engine indexes local language content in Hindi and Kannada. The website mentions that documents that it indexes are manually reviewed to provide the best “seek” experience if you want to browse pages from India. I think while this is a good proof of concept, it will be difficult to scale to a full fledged web search (which is not their plan according to the About section of their site)

PDSText
provides a wrapper over Google which I think is fun just to try out. It is interesting to see that Google already has local languages in their index. Although providing search results for real world queries requires much more work than that.

Search engine with alternate interfaces
Onyomo is a local search engine. You can search for places to eat, restaurants, hotels, florists, etc. More about the search later, but they have recently introduced SMS search where you can sms your query and they sms back the search results. This is definetely a great start for providing service on mobile interface.

JustDial is a service where the users can dial in a number and ask their query and get answers to that for for free. They recently raised funding from SAIF parterners, you can read more here. Their approach of building a strong user base is quite interesting. As of today when Internet penetration hasn’t reached mass population (only 10 million power users and around 2 million broadband connections), they are acquiring users with access to phone/mobile. Hopefully a large part of their phone user base will convert to web interface also in the future if their brand becomes associated with local search.

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