Google Now Hears Hindi

Expanded Language Support for Hundreds of Millions

Google_Hindi_lYesterday, Google and local partners announced the formation of the Indian Language Internet Alliance, an effort to bring Internet content to more individuals on the Indian subcontinent. Google also announced it had expanded voice search to include Hindi and would be supporting other Indian languages such as Bengali, Marathi and Tamil in the near future. This could result in another 500 million Internet users during the coming years, but platform providers and device manufacturers will need to get local too, customising usability for cultural differences.

CCS Insight has long believed that players need to understand the many local variables including language, literacy rates and infrastructure in order to realise the opportunities in expanding the Internet to the next billion. India has about 200 million fluent or near-fluent English speakers, but more than one billion people need content in their mother tongue. By expanding its Hindi support, Google will be able to introduce its brand and it services to at least another 300 million people — about 40% of the Indian population list Hindi as their first language. Google’s Hindi voice-based search should also prove vital to millions making up the 25% of the population that’s illiterate.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, recently announced plans to bring broadband to “every village in the country”, an ambitious goal which will require energetic support (see Daily Insight: The Long Trail). Content and services have now received a boost via Google, the Indian Language Internet Alliance and its new Hindi-centric portal. The next step is bringing region-specific device interfaces and connectivity.

Google’s also addressing the needs of Hindi speakers in its platforms (its Android One project supports Hindi). However, many potential users are looking for a greater range of local languages from more devices and services.

Some companies see the payback as uncertain given the low revenue potential, but others are investing to establish their brand and service early. Facebook and Twitter have joined Google in offering so-called zero-rating traffic or sponsored data, providing users with free connectivity in certain services as most going online in India will do so via mobile devices with small screens and prepaid cards. As people across income levels look to mobile banking and e-commerce, sponsored data is a wise approach.

Initiatives like Google’s will be a key enabler to bring the next billion online. There are opportunities for device makers and network equipment manufacturers, and the realisation that the Internet isn’t “one size fits all” will go a long way toward getting there.