Editor’s Note: This article has been cross-posted with due consent from Medianama.
Around 40% of the traffic that Kannada daily Udayavani gets online is coming from Facebook, Ravi Hegde, Group Editor of Udayavani said at the #NAMA event “The Digital Future of Indic Languages” event last week. Sriram Hebbar, CEO of Greynium Information Technologies (OneIndia) pointed out that while 60% of the traffic for their English section comes from Google*, for the Indian language sites, it is only 20%. Most of their traffic for Indian languages is direct, followed by Facebook.
Another challenge Hebbar mentioned is that Google News doesn’t always surface their language content well enough – “The days our article is on top, we get sizable traffic. Some days it goes up, some days it doesn’t. We don’t depend on Google News, even though we work with their team. Kannada does not have Google News. It started and stopped. For the rest of the languages, it is seasonal.”
Hebbar said that searchability as critical for Indic languages to grow in India, because searchability leads to traffic, which leads to revenue. At the same time, searchability has improved over the years. BG Mahesh, MD of OneIndia, added that with the improvements in fonts and crawling of Indic language sites, search referrals are still better than earlier, but “not anywhere close to where it should be,” a point also mentioned by Mariam Mathew, COO, Manorama Online.
Gaurav Bhaskar, a Google spokesperson, mentioned that the Google search team has been working on improving searchability over the last couple of years, adding that “there is a lot of effort going on right now in making sure that most products have improve not only from the perspective of discovery but experience. We do offer language labeling on YouTube, but people search in English because the metadata in not in English. There is a lot of effort going on in. We just announced Maps in Hindi. The future is Indic Web, and input mechanism are being worked upon.”
Impact of Indic language login pages for Facebook
Kevin D’Souza, Country Growth Manager at Facebook mentioned that they’ve noticed that there is a lot of appetite for Indic languages. “We just started working on some things. Tiny improvements. The registration page was in English because the browser would be in English. Now we’ve started to use carrier detection to figure out which state that user is from, and changing language by locale. We’ve seen Hindi double. There is a lot of low hanging fruit.”
Facebook doesn’t have Indic language input mechanisms. There is, however, Indic language advertising. “Users tell us which preferred language they have, and which locale they use. In terms of locale usage, all the Indian languages are very small right now. We have started exposing that to advertisers, but it is early days.” Bharatmatrimony is one of the companies we’ve noticed advertising in Indic languages on Facebook.
Comments in Indic languages pose legal challenges for publishers
Venkatesh Hariharan, Director at Knowledge Commons, added that at one publisher told him that a switch to Quillpad (and Indic input mechanism), led to the average number of comments increasing from 15 to 300. “If you make it easier to comment, they will.”
However, that comes with its own challenges. Hegde mentioned that one problem they face on Social Networks is that people use abuse words in their own language, and it is difficult for Indic publishers to track them over hundreds of pages. “I cannot put people to track, and it is becoming a legal issue for us.” He mentioned the need for a filter for abusive Indic words, and the need for spam filters. Paroma Roy Chowdhury, a Google spokesperson, mentioned that Google has its own filters for search suggest, because for Google, this problem would otherwise be much larger than for a publisher. Hegde suggested that such tools be open sourced, because it is not financially viable for a publisher to invest so much money in technology.”
Note that D’Souza has since informed us that Facebook Pages do support keyword filtering, and perhaps it is an issue of creating awareness.
Plustxt saw 10x growth once they put in Indic languages
Vishal Anand, Chief Product Officer at NewsHunt, said that when they tried adding comments to their news segment a year and a half ago, nothing happened. Once they launched books, there are now books with over 400 reviews. “First users need to get comfortable with consumption. Now there are a lot of Whatsapp jokes getting shared in Hindi.
“We just put 4 languages - 3 South Indian languages (except Telugu), and Hindi. We saw 10x growth with languages,” Pratyush Prasanna, Founder of Plustxt, a messaging app subsequently acquired by One97 Communications, said.
“It’s a different thing that we got acquired when we hit 1 million users. 60% of our messages even today are people who write in Indian languages. About 30-40 messages even on other apps are written in English script, but in Indian languages. My personal belief is that consumption is showing that here is a lot of latent demand. You don’t look at the RoI today. It’s a leap of faith,” he added.
* #NAMA Indic: The Digital Future of Indic Languages, was supported by Google India.
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