Regional language networking and content publishing apps

Abilash Gopi Vavakkadan, a Kochi-based environmental engineer, spends over four hours every day sharing pictures of his son cultivating vegetables, reading up posts on Kerala's politics and sharing jokes on social networking app ShareChat, reports Times of India. Nothing unusual about that, except that it's in Malayalam. "I have friends who have found jobs through networking on ShareChat. More importantly, I have made friends with over 150 people all over Kerala who speak the same language and have similar viewpoints.

This is a great outlet when one is forced to speak in English at the workplace, said Vavakkadan, who has used the app for one year now and is one of 400,000 daily active users on Lightspeed Venture Partners-funded ShareChat. Regional language networking and content publishing apps are increasingly gaining popularity and stirring investor interest as a market they estimate will be worth over $1 billion by 2020.

From ShareChat, which enables users to create content ranging from demonetization issues to astrology readings and jokes in their own language, to Hindi social networking app Shabd Nagari and publishing apps like Matrix Partners-backed Dailyhunt, Pratilipi and Valmeeki, these tools empower people to create content in their own languages - Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali, Bhojpuri and Marathi, among others.

According to entrepreneurs and investors, about 250 million Indians from smaller towns and cities will come online in the next three to four years to create content and converse in regional languages through these apps. "The focus on Bharat in the startup ecosystem is gaining prominence. When we look at the local language industry and combine online and offline potential, the space is worth over $10 billion. The digital ad spends alone will be worth $1.5 billion by 2020, said Virendra Gupta, CEO of Dailyhunt, an app that focuses on publishing ebooks and aggregating news in 17 languages.

The platform, backed by Matrix Partners and Sequoia Capital India, recently raised $25 million in a Series D funding round led by ByteDance, a global tech company. The funds will be used to improve the publishing technology. Dailyhunt has over 28 million monthly active users and uses optical character recognition (OCR) and machine learning techniques for translation and e-publishing of books.

"The OCR is run across scanned images for converting a printed book into an e-copy and the machine learning converts a printed character into electronic text in whichever language is required, said co-founder Umesh Kulkarni. Translating a 150-page book with 20,000 words would take up to four hours, which the company plans to reduce to two hours. The platform works with more than 10,000 authors from 1,500 publishing entities. Over half a million paid books and 2 million free books are downloaded on the platform every month. It's targeting paid downloads of 1 million books by the first quarter of 2017. Select books are free and others range from as low as Rs 5 to Rs 800.

While technology upgrades are integral, improving social interaction between readers and content creators is equally important. Nexus Venture Partners-backed self-publishing platform Pratilipi, which has over 6,000 authors in eight Indian languages, is increasingly focusing on enabling authors and writers to engage with each other. "We are working on building tools for social interactions such as following your favourite authors, custom notifications and a more personalized recommendation for readers, a detailed author dashboard for writers. Right now, feedback is shared via reviews, comments or by calling and emailing the author in certain instances,, said Ranjeet Pratap Singh, co-founder of Pratilipi.

When the power to create content is provided, questions about regulating it arise easily. "Strong content regulation is likely to come in within India at a later stage. Right now, we have algorithms which identify hate speeches or pornographic content and then we bring that down. But there's a limitation to how much one can impinge on a user's freedom of expression. For instance, Hindutvacentric viewpoints can't be curtailed if they are not inciting anyone,, said Farid Ahsan, co-founder, ShareChat.


Generating revenue in the social networking app space largely ranges from advertising to in-app purchases and subscriptions. Many Indian companies are focusing on user acquisition for next few years before looking at revenue options. The apps are designed to be light on devices. "The content is stored on cloud memory so the number of users that come on board through cheaper smartphones is only going to rise, after which monetisation will become the key focus, said Mayank Khanduja, principal investor at SAIF Partners, who led Sharechat investment. Dailyhunt, which has an early mover advantage, expects to break even in the next two years.


"The local language app industry will take around four to five years to mature and at least eight years before investors can expect returns. The winners in this space will be those who keep improving the user experience through customization and personalization based on individual languages. From upcoming local comedians, singers and writers to political parties like the Samajwadi Party, one is going to see diverse kinds of users gaining a fan following, added Khanduja.

SJP @DigitalAsian - ShareYaar

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