Orkut opened the doors for me to the world of Social networks and with time I moved on to Facebook. Well, we all did isn’t it? But one question kept on haunting me that why India has no social network when we don’t have any dearth of talent. Pick up any infograph that tells the story of social media in India and the first five to give you high five are Facebook, Orkut, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus, the latest kid on the block. So does that mean that India never had any social network for the 33 million crowds that spend time on networking sites out of 100 million online users? Well, we had quite a few players such as BigAdda, Desimartini, Bharatstudent, IndiaRocks, Fropper, etc. but the fact is that today they all have repositioned themselves. For e.g. BigAdda which was launched in 2007 and roped in Bollywood Celebes was touted as the next big thing in social networks in India but no more. BigAdda, from a social networking site has moved to the ecommerce space. DesiMartini now talks about movies, Bharatstudent is all about education, Fropper and Indiarocks are also no exception too. So why have the desi sites kept their social networking behind when social media is the next big thing in India?
I had a telephonic conversation with one of the Indian thought leaders in this space, Sanjay Mehta, CEO of Social Wavelength. Sanjay who has seen the market closely says that,
“Indian social networks failed in differentiating themselves from Facebook.” He also added that, “without deep content, lack of users and no support for local languages made the survival tough for the Indian social networks and failed to break the catch 22 situation.”
Content has been the king and will always be in any form of service and social networks are no exception. One bright example today is Sina Weibo which has better features than Twitter and has become the biggest competitor. Sina Weibo, started local but now is planning to move across the Great Wall of China. I agree that the Great Wall of China was tough for other global players to break through but you can’t snatch the genuine features that are present in social networking sites such as Sina Weibo.
Apart from content Anandan Pillai, co-author of Social Media Simplified says quite critically that,
“As Indians, we look up towards western products and this applied even in this context.” He also adds that, “The biggest flaw that Indian social networks failed to clearly distinguish their social objective for which they stood. Each and every network wanted to have all possible features, which just resulted in the form of mash up confusing novice Indian users. Lack of specific monetization plans also made things difficult and made networks heavily depend upon displaying ads which definitely irritated many initial users.”
Anandan is blunt but it is true that most of our Indian networks wanted hits, loads of people to get on board but were not sure with the next step. For example IndiaRocks went in all direction as soon as it launched without getting into the niche of social networking. Orkut was liked initially by people because it was powered by Google and at the same time it had simple and cool things to offer to users. However, when Facebook came it just eat up everything as it was really advanced and had better things to offer which Orkut lacked.
English language and better features has been one of the flourishing factors of global social networking sites which we lacked was the explanation given to me in a mail by Gautam Ghosh, prominent HR and Social Media Professional.
However, Sundeep Malhotra thinks that Indian social networks failed initially to create a buzz but have repositioned themselves only because their revenue was somehow not directly linked to their user activity. Though the overall consensus on the LinkedIn Answers that was started for the same quest highlighted that user base and user generated content were the missing features and Arun Kumar expressed it really well. Russell Davison also tried to bring the point of advertising revenue which he thinks is much lower in India but he is also positive that India still can have a market of its own in this space.
On a personal note, as a user Indian social networking sites kept on serving me the same thing. Rather than providing rich content and variety, they were always one step ahead thinking how to generate revenue. Funding in the pre-revenue stage is blood to any idea which has been one of the missing factor in the Indian ecosystem, was a key point expressed by Manish Singhal on LinkedIn Answers. Manish is a mentor and business coach for entrepreneurs, startups and SMEs.
And to sum up my quest, I would share Anandan’s thoughts:
“Indian social networks could just collect a few people on their website, but neither had they known what should those people do on their website nor did they know how to earn revenues from those people”
What do you think that went wrong with Indian social networking sites and as a user, would you be keen to join a desi social networking site?