Internet giant Google, which launched Hindi handwriting support for its search engine on Wednesday, has been actively exploring Indian languages of late. In an interview, Lalitesh Katragadda, country head, India products, Google, tells Anand J and Debojyoti Ghosh that developing this handwriting tool is a ‘baby step’ towards reaching out to the country’s vast non-English speaking population.
What is the rationale behind the launch of the Hindi handwriting tool?
This is just the first step. Every product needs to work in local languages so that you can use it without training. One of the four pillars of activating a billion users online is to make the process a natural transition and provide an interface so that users can easily read and write online. It is our aim to bring 300 million more Indian users online. It has often confounded us that less than 10% of internet usage is in Indian languages while offline more than 90% of newspaper readers or television viewers are using these media in Indian languages.
What kind of research has gone into the initiative?
We have done experiments with the next wave of users, where we got in touch with people working with cab services and facility staff, who are reasonably literate. They love the internet and use Facebook, YouTube and all other applications.
But when it comes to creating content, writing and searching, there is a huge gap. Despite a local language keyboard and translation support, it takes them at least 20 minutes to write a sentence. We went to students and colleges to test the handwriting samples. We have been on it for over a year-and-a-half. A 16-member team from Bangalore and a handful of engineers from Zurich and Mountain View have worked on it. Once one Indian language is done, others become easy.
Which are are the other Indian languages on the anvil? How big is the regional language market for Google?
Hindi is the first Indian language we have launched, but we are also working on the next