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?