Internet in India has changed drastically over the last two years. The data wars that have ensued have made prices of mobile broadband plummet, allowing easier and affordable access for many. India’s internet population is around 450 million users, and over 390 million of these are active users. But, according to search giant Google, what’s driving online consumption is the growth of regional languages on the Internet and increasing video consumption.
“India today has about 400 million users, and 250 million access internet in their own language. So Indian language internet users are pretty large already. In fact, there are more non-English users on the Indian internet today, than there are English users,” says Rajan Anandan, vice president, South East Asia & India, Google.
The prediction is that this 250 million number will get to 500 million by 2021. As Google sees it, growth is coming from tier two, three, four cities and rural areas; metros are the not only driving force anymore. Says Anandan, “Many more women are coming online in rural areas. We think by 2024, 45% of the internet user base in India will be women. It’s not just about millennials anymore.”
Content in Indian languages
However, text-based content in regional languages is an area that’s still lacking. That’s where Google is hoping its new ‘Navlekha’ platform will help out. “If you look at internet in India languages, in non-video, which is text, only 1% of the content is in Indian languages. As much as 99% is still English, that is where the big gap lies,” he explains.
The problem is not that India has a shortage of written text-based content in regional languages. That content is just not on the internet. Navlekha plans to change all of that by letting publishers of regional language convert their PDF-based content into a web presence.
“Navlekha lets you take a PDF in whatever language you want and converts it into a web presence,” explains Anandan. The idea is to reach out to magazine, book publishers, and help them bring their regional content online. “Let’s say I’m a Tamil magazine publisher, and I put out a print publication. It could be just a magazine, 10 pages once a month. So essentially, I have a PDF document…what this lets you do is take that PDF, and literally within a minute, make it into a web presence.”
Another area where Google is seeing growth in online consumption is video. In fact, according to Anandan, video consumption is growing more in rural areas. “It’s not an urban phenomenon (video consumption). It’s not a rural phenomenon. It’s an all of India phenomenon,” he highlights.
YouTube & regional content
“YouTube has seen rapid growth in India in the last two years. The daily active user base is growing 100% yearly. More than 75% of the consumption is happening on mobile. Our users are engaging multiple times a day,” says Satya Raghavan, head of entertainment, YouTube in India. “Regional languages across the board are growing on YouTube,” he says.
He insists that it would be wrong to see Hindi as the only dominant Indian language, as others like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada are also growing.
Challenges in translation, the future of voice
Getting more content online from regional languages is just one part of the problem. With the growth of voice-based services, and the company’s growing focus on Google Assistant, the challenges are still very much there in India. According to Anandan, the newer users coming online in India would much rather speak to the internet, than type or tap, which also explains why voice-based queries are growing.“We have 270% growth in search queries on a yearly basis in India. In the last ‘Google for India’, we said that 28% of search queries on Google search app are voice-based so you can imagine that percentage is going up much, much higher,” Anandan said. Last year, Google had revealed that Hindi voice search queries had grown by 400% in India.
While he admits that when it comes to translation there is still scope for improvement, he is confident that Google’s machine learning capabilities will ensure that voice-based search in regional languages will only get better over time.
Monetisation in regional languages
While the majority of India’s future internet citizens will rely on their own languages to access the web, for online publishers, especially those venturing into vernacular languages, the challenges to monetisation are still there.
The importance of serving ads in local languages is not lost on Google, which has opened up AdWords in some of these languages. “Look I do think that monetisation lags. On our part we are making sure that you can make AdWords available in other languages. Last year we had announced AdWords in Hindi, then we added Bengali, now we have added Tamil, Telugu,” explains Anandan.
“If I’m a user, and I don’t speak English, I’m watching some content on and you show me ads in English, it is probably not going to be very effective because I can’t really figure out what you’re saying,” he says.