On September 4, 1998, Google quietly entered our lives and changed the way we function. The company’s search page became the homepage for many. Its Gmail service has become synonymous with mailing, and Google Maps is the go-to app while travelling. The company started with a mission to bring about a change in the tech world. It has. And at the heart of this journey is India, something t2 found out after attending the company’s fourth edition of the annual Google for India event in New Delhi last week. Here is what the Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View, California, HQed company has to say.
Mapping: Calcutta shows the way
We have had many features on Maps work in India in a very different way than in other parts of the world.
There is a new addressing solution, which is in very early stages — plus codes (an open source digital addressing system, which accurately identifies the coordinates of underserved dwellings and these coordinates are converted into a code, which can be looked up using Google Maps). This is a very different way of looking at a problem that exists worldwide. It comes from a very open-source, egalitarian model. And we are trying out the solution in Calcutta.
We are looking at situations where address is critical. There are important mails to be delivered. How does emergency services get to you if you don’t have an address? We want to, in the next year, extend the solution to a million addresses in Calcutta. We will then continue to build out the footprint to other places.
With plus codes, receiving mails or opening bank accounts will become easier. We are working with an NGO called Addressing the Unaddressed. Once an address is assigned, they work with the postal department to train postmen on how to use plus codes. They are also working with banks so that the process of opening accounts becomes easier.
This is not an addressing solution that would replace the system provided by the corporation or the government. We have to remember that these are people who don’t have an address like you have an address. Google only provides the technology and offers a solution.
Search moves from keyboard to voice
We continue to invest in keyboards. But new users are coming with more regional needs and they want to express themselves in their own tongue. Voice is a far more attractive mechanism to get queries answered. When you type, you think in terms of keywords. But when people search using voice, they don’t have to think in terms of keywords. That makes the process more difficult, but fortunately Google has been ahead in this game. Even when we started voice search in English, we had realised people will have queries in more natural formulations. Given the rapid adoption for voice, we are making Google Assistant more accessible… the voice ecosystem is becoming convenient.
For search to be truly helpful, it should be relevant in all languages. If you search in English, Google gives you a huge amount of options to scan through but while searching in an Indian language, the pool of documents is small. For many (in India), the web is a gigantic digital library but with only few shelves of books in the language they speak.
The three Vs for India
The next Internet India is all about voice, video and vernacular.
Voice is emerging as the preferred mode of input for new Internet users. We have seen 270 per cent year-on-year growth in voice searches in India.
Video. It accounts for 75 per cent of all mobile data traffic in India. YouTube today reaches 245 million monthly active users in India.
Vernacular. A majority of Internet users today are Indian language users. And this number is expected to reach 500 million over the next two years. Video is driving almost all the engagement on the Indian Internet. Ninety five per cent of all the video consumption in India today is in vernacular languages.
As new users gain digital majority and transact online, there is a huge opportunity waiting to be unlocked. Every day we are hearing inspiring stories of users and entrepreneurs who are overcoming challenges to gain from the Internet. This is our vision in India: Bringing the Internet alive for everyone.
In the last few years we have made tremendous progress towards this vision. Internet Saathi, our project with Tata Trust, focuses on empowering women through digital literacy in rural India and is today spread across 18 states. Till date we have enrolled 50,000 full-time Saathis working across 200,000 villages and they have now over 20 million women who have learnt to use the Internet. It’s incredible to see that over half of the women trained under the programme are using the Internet to learn new skills.
We have also introduced advertising tools that support Indian languages and this is critical to ensure that the Indian content ecosystem continues to grow.
The other big focus area for us has been to help businesses, especially small businesses, developers and start-ups, learn the skills required to succeed in this fast-growing digital economy. Over 260,000 individuals and small businesses have benefited from our Digital Unlocked programme. For start-ups we announced last month the Launchpad Accelerator programme in India.
More power to Google users
Marathi is now supported by Google Assistant which already supports English and Hindi. Seven more Indian languages are coming soon. Google is also expanding the language capabilities of the Assistant on Google Home. Soon, you’ll be able to talk to your Assistant on Home in Hindi.
Another improvement on the Assistant front is the seamless switching between languages because most Indians communicate in more than one tongue. For instance, when you’ve set your phone to English, and start speaking to your Assistant in Hindi, it’ll automatically recognise the language and will respond accordingly. With this new capability, you can switch seamlessly back and forth between Hindi and English, making conversations much more natural.
At present, 90 per cent of the 150,000 government-registered magazines and newspapers in India don’t have a website. Besides issues related to buying a domain, hosting and maintaining a webpage, it’s difficult to copy text in non-Unicode Indian language fonts from PDF to web pages without a special scanner.
Navlekha is a new programme to help offline newspaper and magazines to go online. Visit g.co/navlekha and sign up. Publishers are given tools to instantly create mobile-friendly websites, upload content, convert PDFs… all with just a few clicks.
Tez is now called Google Pay. In less than a year, over 55 million people have downloaded Tez and now more than 22 million and businesses actively use the app for digital transactions
every month. One of the big features that has been introduced is the way loans can be secured. Google is working with some of the top banks (HDFC, ICICI, Federal Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank) to offer pre-approved, instant loans to their customers, right from within Google Pay. This feature will roll out to eligible users within the next few weeks.
When is Google’s birthday?
Google was incorporated on September 4, 1998, though the research project had begun two years earlier. In 2013, on Google’s 15th birthday, the Doodle Team lead wrote in a blog post: “When’s Google’s birthday? I’m not sure even we know — we’ve celebrated on September 7th, 8th, 26th, and, most recently, the 27th. With a company that’s got fun as deeply embedded in its DNA as Google, it seems fitting that any function would be a real bash, if you will.”
The company officially opened its doors — or rather door! — in Menlo Park, California, on September 4. The company history explains: “On September 7, 1998, Google Inc. opened its door in Menlo Park, California. The door came with a remote control, as it was attached to the garage of a friend who sublet space to the new corporation’s staff of three. The office offered several big advantages, including a washer and dryer and a hot tub. It also provided a parking space for the first employee hired by the new company: Craig Silverstein.” In 2016, a Google blog mentioned: “Google opened its doors in September 1998. The exact date when we celebrate our birthday has moved around over the years, depending on when people feel like having cake.”