Internet in India: The upcoming third wave
It has been my constant quibble that, currently, innovation is Indian internet’s greatest bugbear. Other than the accidental exception of the matrimony websites, I can’t think of even a single company that has done path breaking and /or original things in India. From the big fishes to the minnows, all that we get is yet another email service or yet another social networking site or yet another Digg clone. And the parade is one of never ending ‘inspiration’ and is downright and blatant copying in some cases. So, I got down to thinking, why on earth is it that we don’t see any innovation in this space in our country?
Is it that we don’t have any desire to change the rules of the game? Don’t any of us crave for that killer idea which will change the landscape and the way India is perceived on the internet front? I think the problem lies more with the fact that most of us still do not think natively in terms of the internet. There are not too many of us who are constantly connected, updating information about ourselves and transmitting it pretty much real time. And that is reflected in the ideas that we often come up with.
During the first wave, before the crash came, we had the wonderers and the explorers who just wanted to get on the bandwagon. Most of these were either expats or people with an entrepreneurial itch who just took their latest scratch online. At that time we had the regular content-heavy media websites, lots of copycat B2B websites, the odd auction website or two and even websites that wanted to hand deliver emails sent to others. In short, nothing spectacular; which was not surprising, considering the fact that even the rest of the world too was pretty much getting over their adolescence at that time, coming down from the high of counting eyeballs and setting right numerous other misconceptions.
After the crash that eventually came, we grew up. We wanted to control expenses and took to the notion of revenue NOT being an optional extra for the future. A lot of companies actually started operating in the black and major brands like Yahoo! MSN and Google started treating the country as a serious market than as an outback of sorts or even as an afterthought.
The growth, though, did not extend to the innovation space. What exactly went wrong there? Why have we not seen a Facebook or a Youtube or a Twitter here first? Granted, broadband penetration is not very high in India, but what about text-based content? We have not even come close to scratching the surface of local language content here. Other than a couple of nifty search interfaces, there is nothing, nada, zilch that is happening in terms of innovation there. The only player worth mentioning, Webduinya, is nothing more than the existing Indian English web in a Hindi garb.
The problem is that we don’t think natively in terms of the Internet. Most of us, the first generation and second generation internet adventurers, still think of an offline problem first and then try to find an online solution for it. For the dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneurs like the TATAs and the Ambanis the internet is still unknown territory when it comes to translating their instincts onto it. Thus we look westwards and do the same done-to-death themes of email, instant messaging, blogging, tagging and foist them on the unsuspecting users all over again.
For genuine innovation to show up, the next generation – the kids who are sixteen or younger – have to grow up. These are the natively connected consumers for whom a Google, Yahoo! or an Indiatimes will bring about a faster degree of recollection, with a larger mental footprint, as sources of information dissemination than a Times of India, Hindustan Times or any other traditional media brand we can think of right now.
We can’t start to imagine the needs, requirements and desires of this age group. For us this is a mobile phone-toting, constantly texting and scrapping demographic whose mentality is totally alien to us. We can’t think like them because we are not like them. For the vast majority of the rest of us, this constantly connected world does not exist. We drift constantly inhaling the nostalgic fumes of a static past, rudely woken up often by a world that’s constantly updated, profiled and customized.
We, the adults, can’t imagine a world where a commercial will speak directly to us, addressing us by name, what we normally look for – a world where context will constantly surround us. For the coming generation, context following them is a natural thing. They will grow up in a world where data is mixed, mashed up and beaten out of shape in more ways than can be imagined. The only edition that they’ll ever see is personal and not based on a city or time of the day, which is something most of us can’t even start to dream about.
And that is where the genuine innovation in India will start. Till then we will wander, inadequately tooled, copying and aping what’s already been done a million times before.
Subscribe to comments with RSS.