Global Themes

On Globalization & Venture Capital

A dream of “Democratizing Content”

When I first heard of Lokmanch.com earlier this year, I was intrigued.

“Lokmanch”(“People’s Platform” in Hindi) is an independent Hindi news aggregator site operating out of India. About three months ago, I got in touch with the two founders and was impressed by their enthusiasm, passion and obvious love for the business.

Although their position on (and perception of) “Globalization” is very different from my own take on it…I could not help admire the amount of work and energy that they had put in this effort. As it happened. I had the chance to meet with them a few weeks after the first conversation…and I came away from the meeting hooked!

Lokmanch’s vision is simple yet powerful – to make news and content available easily and freely in languages other than English and to be an alternative to current mainstream (English) media in India.

I would like to extend this idea a little further…and this is the dream  – to make information/content available to anyone, anywhere and anytime, freely…In the context of India, other than the obvious difficulties in “anywhere” and “anytime”, you also face the challenge of “anyone” since a large number of people do not speak English* – hence the appeal of non-English online news aggregator(s) like Lokmanch. This is what I would call “Democratizing Content“.

I am excited by this and will be watching them closely…and I wonder if there is any similar site (independently aggregating regional, local news content) catering to the Chinese speaking population?

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* Although by 2010, India will have the world’s largest number of English speakers and as Prof. David Crystal has memorably noted elsewhere, “When 300 million Indians speak a word in a certain way, that will be the way to speak it.”!

May 17th, 2007 Posted by | Entrepreneurship, Globalization, India, Miscellaneous | 10 comments

10 Comments »

  1. Availability of news in other ethnic languages will add to feature richness of content, not essentially *Democratize* it – since their media is internet which is hardware dependendant. And high cost hardware, requirements of (often forced) frequent high cost upgrades, high cost of servicing renders it clearly beyond the reach of poor common man to whom it actually is relevant.

    Eventually low user adoption will stagnate it, if not sounding its death knell. The reason why Internet user base in India still remains a paltry 2 million as against its population of 1.1 billion.

    Comment by Krishna | May 18, 2007

  2. You may also like to check this out, Shantanu –

    http://www.naidunia.com

    Krishna, you may like to check this out on sustainability of such initiatives –

    http://www.echoupal.com

    ” e-Choupals deliver relevant technology in the hands of the farmers, which can improve the economic condition of the entire village. e-Choupal is one of the very few ICT projects in India that has effectively utilized e-commerce transactions for poverty alleviation. One of the key lessons is that ICT can reduce the number of middlemen involved between agriculture commodity producers and final consumers. Another key factor is that very simple technology solutions are available to create networks in rural areas, which can function as virtual agricultural commodity market places.

    The project is financially sound and sustainable as the cost incurred on the establishment of the kiosk was recovered by the company in less than two years from profit generationed by avoiding numerous tiers in agricultural commodity transitions. The recurring costs are born by the kiosk operators who receive commission on each transaction. The project is vibrant and sustainable, and has a bright future. “

    Comment by abc | May 18, 2007

  3. Shantanu: What role – catalysing or decelerating – might literacy play in the success and adoption of Lokmanch? Might Lokmanch itself catalyse and spur literacy numbers upward? Until then, I think, even if access issues were resolved, more by way of accessibility technologies might be needed to make this truly ‘democratic’ and universally accessible.

    Comment by Shefaly Yogendra | May 18, 2007

  4. Krishna : Availablity of content in non-English languages is just one aspect of “democratizing” it…The other two aspects (anytime, anyuwhere) are daunting challenges in themselves (as you point out too).

    However, the Lokmanch vision has a plan behind it (which for reasons of confidentiality I am unable to detail here) that will hopefully be a huge step foprward in increasing user adoption and making the content really accessible via appropriate and cost-effective hardware and software (see e.g. my earlier post on the $100 computer http://global-themes.com/has-the-100-pc-finally-arrived/)

    ABC: I know Nai Dunia quite well (I lived for several years in Indore and for a period of time was working with another newspaper in Indore) and as you point out, e-Choupal is a great case study of similar initiatives.

    Shefaly: I hope Lokmanch is able to catalyse literacy to at least some extent by offering relevant (e.g. local; but not restricted to local) high-quality and interesting content. Regardless there are huge challenges ahead…and I dont think that there is only one way to truly “democratize” content. I am sure they will learn more as they go along.

    Comment by Shantanu Bhagwat | May 18, 2007

  5. Shefaly,

    If not literacy per se, such initiatives would definitely catalyse digital literacy to a great extent.

    My dad who is a retired professor from a reputed college in MP, misses his daily dose of local news in Hindi whenever he visits us in Delhi. He is not really a computer literate. However, he often asks me to connect to the online version of Nai Duniya. Probably, this was the first use of Internet he could connect himself to.

    Shantanu, I know your connection with Indore pretty well :-). The intent was to let you know that this initiative is not the first of its kind.

    Comment by abc | May 21, 2007

  6. Shantanu and abc: thanks. Can’t help but think of e-moms, who learnt to email, chat and use VoIP to be in touch with their children half a day behind them in California… 🙂

    Comment by Shefaly | May 21, 2007

  7. Shefaly, This was the case of some deprived parents whose children didn’t do great honors to them by settling abroad :-).

    Comment by abc | May 21, 2007

  8. Oops!.. I meant…by *not* settling abroad.

    Comment by abc | May 22, 2007

  9. abc: I might have understood your note if there weren’t a double negative around. 😎 As it stands, I do not know what you meant… In any case, I do not think a progeny settling anywhere does anything particularly honourable or otherwise for the parent. Some of my friends who live in India also chat on-line with and email their parents in other cities in India more than they call or call on them…

    Comment by Shefaly Yogendra | May 22, 2007

  10. abc: Hmmm…I wonder who you are? (although I can make a prety good guess!)

    Regardless, it would be nice if you can choose a name so that Shefaly and me can respond to “someone” rather than just “abc” – even a fake one will do!

    Comment by Shantanu Bhagwat | May 22, 2007

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