Vernacular Indian learns better with audio-visual elements

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Published: March 25, 2019 1:56:21 AM

Mayank Bidawatka (left) and Aprameya Radhakrishna are co-founder and CEO, respectively, of Vokal. Bidawatka was a team members at redBus; Radhakrishna was the co-founder of TaxiForSure that was sold to Ola

Vokal is a platform (an app) that aims to bridge the information gap among non-English internet users by enabling peer-to-peer knowledge sharing using voice. Users can come on Vokal and ask a question, which is then answered by an expert. Doesn’t it read like an audio version of, say, a Quora?

Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka, CEO and co-founder, respectively, agree that there are similarities between the two platforms, but the difference lies in the approach. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, they add that the vernacular Indian learns better with audio-visual elements. Excerpts:

Is Vokal, in a way, the audio version of something like a Quora?
Quora is a great product for the English-speaking world. But the vernacular audience is different. They are getting access to a smartphone for the first time, and aren’t used to a keyboard. They are more comfortable talking into a device. Vokal is similar to Quora when it comes to the end-objective of knowledge democratisation, but our approach is different. We believe the vernacular Indian will learn better with audio-visual elements.

Quora is a household name, but Vokal doesn’t appear to be so. Why?
Quora has been around for years; Vokal is one-year old. The audience we cater to is slated to become 750-800 million users. The opportunity we are addressing is huge.

Can vernacular platforms change the way education is delivered?

Access to knowledge through the internet has higher reach than physical knowledge dissemination (schools, colleges, libraries). Vokal enables the best minds of India to share knowledge with the common folk. Most of it is shared in video and audio forms; it’s self-learning. Users can ask questions in their language on the platform, and volunteers respond within minutes. This enables a constant exchange among seekers and sharers.

If we look at education from a broader perspective, it encompasses schoolchildren, college students and adults who want to upskill. We don’t concentrate on curriculum knowledge sharing because that’s being addressed by schools and online universities. We address more of knowledge sharing outside of the curriculum.

How is inexpensive data helping companies such as Vokal?
There are 400 million internet users in India, and 225 million of them don’t speak English. It is expected to reach 800 million (non-English-speaking 600 million) in a few years. Information access is one of the most frequent use cases among internet users. We are grateful to companies like Jio that have revolutionised internet access, opening up avenues for progress among the marginalised.

Who vouches for the accuracy of answers delivered on Vokal? Who’s accountable for wrong information, if shared?
The best minds of India are invited to contribute here. This ensures a certain degree of quality. These volunteers are screened for their title and expertise.

Vokal is a platform that hosts Q&A of the community. A platform can never take responsibility for someone else’s opinion. It’s different from newspapers that have to be responsible for the views of the journalist. You can’t hold Twitter responsible for someone’s negative views. Our structure is similar to all these global platforms.

What is your long-term vision?
We want to see a progressive India. Today, a large part of India is marginalised because it doesn’t speak the global language. We want to remove that barrier by enabling knowledge sharing in Indian languages. There are multiple solutions out there to help people learn English. While this may take time, we know there’s very little friction in taking knowledge to people in their own language. They are hungry to learn and we have smart people who haven’t shared knowledge in their mother tongue yet. We want to harness this power.

We want to be one of the first products that can be used by India’s 500 million language internet users.
All start-ups need investment…

Vokal is funded by Accel Partners, Blume Ventures, Shunwei Capital, Kalaari Capital and 500 Startups. Our recent round was a Series A of $6.5 million.

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