Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chicken or Egg?

Google India had its first ever Google Developer Day, held in Bangalore on October 18th. I spoke about our Indic Transliteration API, which makes it possible to add Indic language tying to any website in a very simple manner. (more about this API and other Indic tools a later post).

What struck me as I spoke to the developers at the conference is a sense of uncertainty about the market opportunity for Indic language products and services, so I thought I'd set down some thoughts on how I look at this market.

The opportunity.
  • In an earlier post, I outlined some of the demographic and socioeconomic statistics that set the context for this opportunity. Bottom-line: India is getting richer and more literate at a much faster pace than its learning English.
  • In every country around the world, as the internet provided compelling content and applications in local languages, people found value in them. This is true across Europe, Asia and the Americas. There is no reason to think India is different.

The ecosystem
  • The bottleneck is this: people won't go online until hey find value, and the value creators (content producers, application developers) won't make the investment until they find people online. How to break this logjam?
  • If we look at how the internet developed in the US, it may provide a useful analogy. For the purposes of our discussion, we can break down this evolution into three phases.
  • First came content. This was mostly produced by communities people who had a passion for putting up content they cared about. Traffic and monetization was mot the motivation.
  • Second came growing readership as people started discovering this content. This set off a virtuous cycle in which content eventually because a viable, monetizatable business.
  • Third (and final) were the application developers who could now focus on moving the online experience beyond passive consumption of information to interactivity, community building, service delivery and a host of other innovations.
The Indic market was stuck in phase one for a long time, and (I believe) has just recently entered phase two. There are some signs to back this up - the growing number of newspapers launching online editions in local languages, the growth in the number of tools available for entering local language text using an english keyboard (Google, Quillpad among others).

Are you ready?