The ‘Digital India’ campaign was officially launched in 2015. The campaign aims to get rid of India’s great digital divide by addressing two major issues:
One, a lack of internet access in several regions of the country; and two, the unavailability of localized digital content in regional languages to reach out to the masses.
In this article, we will outline the elements of digitalization and the great opportunities that exist for companies on the forefront of this process particularly in regards to Indian languages.
What is digitalization?
Digitalization is the integration of digital technologies into everyday life.
The concept can be better understood by breaking it down into three simpler components:
- Computerization – The process of taking activities or tasks not previously done on a computer and shifting them into that space
- Electronization – The process of taking an item or process from paper-based form and publishing it electronically
- Digitization – Conversion of analogue information in any form (text, photographs, or voice) to digital form with suitable electronic devices so that the information can be processed, stored, and transmitted through digital circuits, equipment, and networks
The term ‘digitalization’ can be used in several different contexts. For instance, certain software may be able to ‘digitalize’ a company’s records, doing away with the need for filing cabinets–saving physical space and promoting ease of access.
Or take a traditional wristwatch, which earlier served the purpose of only showing time, is being ‘digitalized’ into a smartwatch with a touchscreen display.
Digitalization and India: The Role of Languages
‘India is the world’s largest experiment in digitalization.’
– B. Santhanam (Saint-Gobain India)
With internet access now reaching every corner of India—rural and urban—content of all types and forms is being ‘digitalized’ into different Indian languages. As a result, India is becoming a more digitally literate nation.
Back in the mid-1990s, the English language made up almost 80% of content on the internet. As of now, it has shrunk to a mere 30%, with other languages claiming its space.
The trend is there for all to see on social media platforms like Twitter: 49% of the total tweets are in languages other than English.
As of December 2015, it was estimated that the number of Indians who could speak English was a mere 200 million. In stark contrast, Hindi, which is pegged to be the fourth-largest spoken language in the world, has a speaker base of 400 million.
Hindi, though, does not have a substantial internet presence.
A majority of the other 800-million-plus Indians are fast gaining access to the internet thanks to the growing use of smartphones in the Indian market.
As of March 2016:
- Fluent English-speaking population in India: 4%
- Non-English-speaking population in India: 88%
- Non-English-speaking audience using the internet: 47%
It’s evident from these figures that the future growth of India’s internet user base is made up of regional language internet users.
Therefore, localization will play a crucial role in the digitalization of the country overall.
We are all aware of the great ‘digital divide’ that exists in India – the gulf or gap between regions and people that have ready access to modern information and communication technology, and those that have restricted or no access.
Going a step further, we come across another phrase that holds relevance in the country today: the ‘digital language divide’.
Why Companies Should Prioritize the Digitalization of Indian Languages
‘The conversion of all sorts of cultural contents into bits and bytes opens up a completely new dimension of reaching traditional and new audiences by providing access to cultural heritage resources in ways unimaginable a decade ago.’
(Mulrenin and Geser, 2001)
Image courtesy: Virtual-Kidspace
Rajan Anandan, Google VP and Managing Director, South East Asia and India, says their company’s big goal as a part of the ‘Digital India’ initiative is to focus on bringing more Indian language content online.
Why the major focus on Indian languages? Many of the next 100 to 200 million Indians who come online won’t speak English, and there’s a clear need for each of the following:
1. A seamless customer experience
The customer needs everything to be pre-activated, fully functional, and automated with all information, FAQs, and customer support available in the localized language without any hassles. Going digital gives business that power. Single-click instant delivery of products and services ordered online, full access to a customer’s likes and dislikes along with their preferences, and performance tracking of individual products all becomes much more simplified.
2. Cost effectiveness
Digitalization is the most way to enter new markets. For example, a shoe store can maintain a digital inventory of all models and sizes available to increase operational efficiency. Additionally, automated customer service support in a regional language has two-way benefits—both for the customers in the form of better service, and for the company by reducing employee headcount costs.
3. More enhanced access and connectivity to a wider community
Smartphones are getting cheaper and so are 3G, 4G, and soon-to-be 5G services. But due to poor connectivity and lack of local language content in the remote areas of the country, vast potential markets remain largely untapped. Providing good quality, easily accessible digital content in the local dialects of the people in these areas is bound to enhance connectivity.
In June 2015, the revenue expenditure on online advertisements in the local language was 5% in India. It was expected to jump to a whopping 30% in the following 5 years.
Research has proven time and again that the influence and scope of e-commerce in tier-II and tier-III cities is immense. For businesses looking to make a foray into these potential markets, taking the language plunge the digital way is a prerequisite, especially through popular social media platforms.
Digitalization of Indian Languages – Key Facts and Figures
To bring a greater majority of the population online, content generation in local languages is key.
Here are some key facts and figures from the past decade:
- A 2014 Google India report indicated 21% of the Indian population prefers to access internet in Hindi, with subsequent content consumption indicating a growth of 94% year on year as compared to only 19% growth for English digital content online.
- In 2011, India was the third largest internet user base in the world. Fast forward just two years and 2013 saw India rising to claim the position of the second largest user base in the whole world.
- Of the overall content generated online, a dismal 0.1% of it is in Hindi, one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
- In stark contrast, English accounts for almost 56% of the content.
- Based on UNESCO estimates, 197 of more than 1652 Indian languages are dying a slow, irreversible death.
- By 2017, India was expected to reach 314 million mobile internet users.
- By 2018, India was projected to be home to approximately 250 million online consumers, 200 million rural online users and an e-commerce industry worth close to $70 billion.
- A Cisco report says that India is the second largest and fastest growing smartphone market globally with close to 150 million smartphone users and is expected to cross the 650 million mark by the year 2019.
What that said, what does the future look like?
Sundar Pichai, Google Inc. Chief Executive, has proclaimed that the company will make it viable to use Android to type in 11 Indian languages.
E-commerce portals will make apps available in Indian regional languages, and mobile companies like Micromax can be seen rolling out phones that support as many as 10 regional languages.
The Government has even launched a web domain – .bharat – to enable web users to key in internet addresses in the Devanagari script.
Speaking the citizens’ languages and bringing a greater number of people than ever into the digital mainstream remains the goal moving deeper into the 2020s.
What’s next for the digitalization of content in India?
The concept of digital media existing as an offshoot of print media needs an overhaul. Only when digital media assumes an independent existence can it actively expand its presence to the masses.
Websites and social media platforms need to become more regional-language friendly to enable a wider user base. This will ensure ease of access and interaction among erstwhile non-users of the internet that are new to the medium.
Wikipedia has shown us the way: The largest and most popular general reference encyclopedia on the internet features 36 million articles in more than 290 different languages.
Gone are the days when one would physically visit a library and sift through the books lining the shelves. Digitalization can pave the way for a free-to-read, extensive digital library accessible to anyone and everyone, 24/7 at the click of a mouse or by scrolling on your mobile device.
The internet is scaling rapidly among Indian users. The digitalization of Indian languages must be prioritized in order to tap the potential of these rapidly growing regional pockets of people who are quickly turning internet-savvy.
Are you ready for a digitalized India?
India is estimated to contribute to more than 40% of new internet users in the world over the next half decade. In short, the future for Digital India is promising.
“Digital platforms help make the India of our dreams happen.”
(Dr. Ganesh Natarajan)
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