2014 marks the 25th Anniversary of the World Wide Web. The father of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, did not create it for personal profit – he was driven by a vision of his creation as a powerful force for social change and expression of individual creativity. To quote the World Wide Web Foundation, for the Web to reach its true potential, “Everyone — regardless of language, ability, location, gender, age or income — will be able to communicate and collaborate, create valued content, and access the information that they need to improve their lives and communities.”
If we take stock today, where do we stand against this vision? While 70% of the world’s population now has access to mobile or fixed communication, only 25% uses the internet. This is a huge digital divide, and it exists in India as well. India has just under 300 million internet users as against 900 million mobile subscribers.
It is popular to speak about mobile as the vehicle through which the internet will reach mass India, and indeed the majority of users in India are accessing through mobile devices. However, for access to be meaningful – to give everyone a fair chance to ‘communicate, collaborate, create and access’, we need to overcome a huge barrier – lack of vernacular content and apps. Only an estimated 20% of Indian population can speak English, and less than 4% speak it fluently. If we are to make digital inclusion a reality, and free the internet from the shackles of an English-only, elite medium, then we have to urgently address the need for vernacular app-based content on mobiles. The challenge to be addressed is two fold – making access easy for the first time smartphone (and internet) user, and making content accessible in his/her language.
India can learn a lot from neighbouring China, where internet adoption has been fuelled not only by cheap mobile devices, but also by access to content in Chinese language. Chinese, along with English and Japanese, is one of the 10 languages that constitute 80% of web content. This is one Top 10 list that India really needs to feature on!
Vernacular language mobile applications can unlock fresh growth in several sectors – notably education, finance, agriculture and health – all areas which are vital to a progressive and modern India. This is an area where corporates and government need to work hand in hand to explore meaningful partnerships, because social and commercial growth are interlinked when we talk about growth of the internet.
The ultimate ideal would be achieved if non-English speakers could also create applications – if every Indian could code in their mother tongue. In the media business – advertising, movies or serials – the ability to think in local language is highly prized, as it always leads to more engaging communication that connects with the common man. The elitist English-only programming world represents a silent digital apartheid which excludes vernacular language programmers. Think of the magic that non English programmers could create if they were empowered to create applications in their own preferred language!
The Code India Movement is beautifully aligned with the vision of Anant Computing. Anant Computing helps companies to create native apps in every Indian language, that run on any feature phone or smartphone. Team Anant firmly believes that true digital inclusion will happen if every citizen of our country has the power of internet and computing at their finger tips. Our vision when we designed Anant was a more digitally inclusive India, where everyone with a mobile phone can both create and access high quality apps ,sans language barriers.