Apps taking over India’s social media scene have captured the imagination of Indians outside tier 1 cities.
New Delhi: Ever heard of Roposo, Sharechat or VivaVideo? If you haven’t, you probably live in a metro city, prefer English to other languages, and are likely to be 25 years or older.
Have we been cryptic enough?
If you surf through the average Indian’s smartphone, you’ll likely find apps for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and the likes on it. What all these apps have in common is that they cater to a largely English-speaking clientele.
However, you’ll discover a social media profile completely alien to you on the smartphone of an average Indian living in the country’s heartland.
From live streaming platforms to video editors, apps such as Roposo and Viva Video have uncovered a cottage industry of local content generators by targeting populations in regional languages.
It’s all about going desi; these apps offer sections for memes, good morning messages, ‘non-veg’ jokes, shayaris, trending Bollywood news and so on in as many as 14 Indian languages.
A Google-KPMG 2017 report predicts that by 2021, 75% of India’s internet user base will consist of Indian language internet users. In fact, in 2016, there were already 234 million people engaging/creating content in local languages while only 175 million were English internet users in India.
If an app in one’s own lingo wasn’t enough to get a whole new demographic hooked, some companies have set up a post-and-earn model by which users are encouraged to put up content and earn based on how others respond to it.
These applications cater to camera-savvy 18-25-year-olds who like to shoot and share videos, complete with a soundtrack and special effects Rohit Shetty would be proud of.
The more following one rakes up, the more money they take home in the form of sponsorships, as on Musical.ly, or in the form currency created by the app, as on Bigo Live and Roposo. The most followed users on Musical.ly (or musers) were earning as much as $300,000 by posting content online, according to a Forbes report.
However, the high level of user interaction and content generation has also meant a higher circulation of fake news and political propaganda as well as access for predators/paedophiles to more victims. Many apps set 13 as the lowest age limit to sign up.
To counter this, tech policy consultant Mandar Kagade says it is important for civil society to come up with solutions to protect vulnerable groups such as children. “For instance, tech companies can work on developing innovative robust parental control technologies to filter sexual content. In the case of fake news, civilians, journalists and media companies can get more active in calling out and flagging the content,” Kagade said.
As the fastest growing app market globally, there’s a lot of potential in India. With new users signing up everyday, the market has attracted a lot of interest from Chinese firms. Many of these apps have either been invested in or are owned by companies like ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet company, and entities related to handset maker Xiaomi.
Here’s a look at the 10 apps that are shaking things up.
Launched: October 2015
Users: 30 million in India
ShareChat is easily the cream of the apps targeting first-time users through regional languages. Since its launch as a simple application for entertainment, it has turned into a social networking beast where news, knowledge, hashtags and ‘trending’ topics offer a laugh or some ‘sage’ advice.
In fact, the app is a defacto factory for WhatsApp forwards.
Created by Bhanu Singh, Ankush Sachdeva, and Farid Ahsan, the app caters to 14 Indian languages — Hindi, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Malayalam, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, Odia, Bhojpuri, Assamese, Rajasthani and Haryanavi.
Once you log in, you can scroll through about 10 main categories and numerous sub categories to see what Indians across the country are upto.
Its investors include Shunwei Capital, a venture capital firm launched by Xiaomi founder Lei Jun, and Xiaomi Singapore.
But its raving success has also meant some trouble, especially with regards to fake news.
A HT report found that inaccurate posts such as celebrities supposedly supporting political parties or a Hindu politician allegedly eating chicken were circulated on ShareChat.
Berges Y. Malu, the app’s head of public policy, told ThePrint that ShareChat uses automated computer algorithms to detect such content, in addition to a large set of human moderators.
“ShareChat is very concerned about any inaccurate information, information inciting violence and threatening lives,” he added. To that end, accounts violating community guidelines more than three times are blocked for good. Offending accounts and content are taken down daily.
The company recently carried out an intensive clean up, removing 50,000 offending accounts, according to BBC.
Launched: September 2016
Users: 15 million in India
Indians have been downloading TikTok to shoot, edit and post short videos of themselves. Think of it as an app for Instagram stories — from inane everyday moments to funny tantrums, the app has become a platform for all kinds of content.
TikTok was launched by ByteDance, which later acquired and merged it with Musical.ly in August 2018. By including an array of SnapChat-esque special filters and stickers, the app sparked a video craze in China. In the first quarter of 2018, it became the most downloaded non-game app in the Apple app store globally.
In India, users can switch between Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu to find and post videos.
However, TikTok has also faced issues with young users being solicited by paedophiles. In December 2016, a father reported that his eight-year-old was sent predatory messages. In July this year, Indonesia temporarily banned TikTok for pornographic content.
“At TikTok, we are committed to maintaining a safe and positive in-app environment for our users as we encourage them to showcase their creativity and talent…,” the company said in an email response to ThePrint.
TikTok said it has put in place a number of measures to protect users against misuse of the platform such as blocking images or videos being sent in comments or messages.
“Users can make their account private, block another user, report an account or content, and disable the ability to receive messages as well… TikTok is an app for users of ages 13 and over, as per our Terms of Service, and we’ve given it a 12+ App Store rating, so parents can simply block it from the phone their children are using,” they added.
Launched: June 2018
Users: Over 5 million in India
Similar to ShareChat, Helo offers a platform for sharing and consuming viral content, celebrity news and trending topics. It lets you shoot videos, watch and share viral videos, get content for WhatsApp statuses, and read shayaris.
Available in 14 languages, it includes a privacy feature for users to control who shares their content.
Helo is owned by ByteDance, which initially looked to invest in ShareChat but later decided to launch its own app in India.
Given the kind of content generated, Helo is also fertile ground for fake news.
Among the most circulated fake news was one about the US President saying Narendra Modi should be PM for life, and another that Muslims were responsible for most of the past decade’s sexual crimes committed in India.
To combat the problem, the company recently partnered with Alt News, a fact-checking outlet, to regulate content.
“At Helo, we take issues such as misinformation and fake news very seriously. This is why we’re honoured to partner with Alt News, a renowned fact-checking authority, to ensure that our platform continues to be a safe and viable source of the latest news and trending topics,” said Shayamanga Barooah, head of content operations, in a press statement according to The Indian Express.
Launched: March 2016
Users: 50 million in India
In simple terms, BIGO LIVE is a live video streaming social network. Users can live stream anything they want — these often vary from just lying in bed to random, impromptu dances and playing PUBG or Dota 2. But the real deal of the app is its set up as a game to engage users who in turn earn ‘diamonds’ the longer the stay on the app.
Developed by Singapore-based Bigo Technology, the application entered the Indian market in April 2017. Within eight months, it had 50 million registered users. According to Google Playstore, it has over 200 million downloads in 191 countries.
Bigo Technology’s largest shareholder is YY Inc., China’s biggest live streaming and social media platform.
The app uses game mechanics to get users to build ‘families’ within Bigo’s ecosystem. The more time you spend on the app, you earn coins which are then used to buy gifts to get noticed in a broadcast. The coins, diamonds and beans are part of Bigo’s currency and transaction system, and can be converted into real money.
But, as with other streaming and social media applications, Bigo isn’t immune to objectionable content.
The website and app carry a warning next to each video or livestream: “Be polite and respectful. Any smoking, vulgar, pornography and nudity display behaviours are prohibited in BIGO LIVE. If conducted, account will be banned. Moderators will keep inspecting 24 hours.”
Users: 25 million users in India
Roposo is a video platform that offers a digital TV-like experience. Users can create and watch videos under 25 interest-based channels such as ‘Haha TV’ for humorous content, ‘Bhakti’ for religious content, and ‘Beats’ for music.
The app also dangles the monetisation-carrot with ‘Roposo Coins’. The currency is given out for creating and viewing content on the platform. Users can also gift one another coins, which can be withdrawn via e-wallets. The currency exchange is 1,000 Roposo coins for 1 INR.
Roposo was launched by IIT Delhi graduates Mayank Bhangadia, Avinash Saxena and Kaushal Shubhank, and was initially meant to be a social media platform for fashion.
But as users began posting unrelated content, the creators rebranded the app. The pivot paid off and user engagement increased drastically from 300 posts a day in 2016 to 250,000 daily video posts, said Bhangadia, CEO & co-founder.
Roposo is now available in Hindi, Telugu, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi, Punjabi and Bengali and engages 7.5 million monthly active users, Bhangadia added.
Unlike the other popular apps, Roposo doesn’t have any Chinese funding backing it. It’s investors include Flipkart cofounder Binny Bansal, and Tiger Global, which invested in Flipkart.
Users: 10-15 million users in India
Kwai also offers users a platform to leverage the content they are creating for money. It competes directly with apps like TikTok.
With over 700 million users worldwide and over 120 million daily active users, the Beijing-based company is looking to capitalise on the Indian market.
As with other visual platforms, Kwai has had issues with users encouraging underage girls to perform sexually suggestive dances, and so on.
“We received reports about the distribution of inappropriate videos and comments which are harmful to children and our community. Those videos and comments were deleted immediately after it was reported to us,” a representative for the company told ThePrint.
“We are strengthening our content monitoring system, powered by artificial intelligence and professional reviewers… We have also established a special taskforce responsible for child protection on our platform… We follow the highest ethical and professional standards in whichever market we operate, and India is no exception,” the company added.
OTHER POPULAR SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
Launched: October 2008
Users: Over 50 million downloads on Google Playstore
Vigo Video lets users make 15-second videos, edit it with special effects, filters, remove blemishes, and share directly on to social media.
Originally called Flipagram, it was acquired in January 2017, but is currently operated by Bytemod, part of the China-based ByteDance. Some may also know it as Hypstar.
According to SimilarWeb, Vigo Video is ranked number 21 in India based on current number of app installs, active users and performance over the past 28 days as of 7 December 2018.
Users: Over 380 million users worldwide
This is a video editor app for amateurs who want to upload content to YouTube or TikTok. It has features like trimming, letter insertion, dubbing, and special music effects. It was developed by a Chinese company, QuVideo Inc.
Launched: March 2017
Users: Around 2 million monthly active users
Clip is a social media platform with a focus on making and sharing videos. Its features include connecting users based on content sharing preferences, and it includes a chat feature.
Nav Agrawal, Ashish Gupta and Swapnil Upadhyay launched the platform that has content in Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Urdu, Malayalam, and Punjabi.
Its investors include Matrix Partners India, which has also invested in content aggregator DailyHunt, and Shunwei Capital, an investment fund launched by Xiaomi founder.
Users: 140 million users a month
Veblr, much like YouTube and Dailymotion, is a platform to watch and upload videos. What sets it apart is its accessibility on both a mobile and desktop browser, and in fact doesn’t require a mobile app. It was launched by Sandeep Sethi and supports Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Guajarati, Marathi, Odiya, Urdu, Assamese, Punjabi, Telugu, and English. According to Sethi, the website clocks about 140 million users a month.