While Twitter CEO Elon Musk continues to experiment with the idea of attaching a price to people’s ability to express themselves on the platform, Indian micro-blogging player Koo is devising strategies to offer itself as a substitute to the US-based social media giant that has been caught in a whirlwind of internal commotion ever since its takeover by the Tesla CEO in a $44 billion deal.
Koo’s reading is that people across the world including in the US, which is the home turf of Twitter, are looking for alternatives and the company wants to leverage this opportunity by placing Koo as a free alternative to Twitter. “People want to be on a platform that is stable, that they can predict. This is the best opportunity for us to go into markets where Twitter is already very strong, and offer ourselves as a free alternative. This is in addition to the large 'language' market which we were anyway going after where Twitter is not so strong,” co-founder & CEO Aprameya Radhakrishna tells Fortune India in an interview.
At the heart of the company’s ideology is the idea of enabling a space for ‘a language speaker to go and share on the open internet.’ The firm has been positioning its language play as a hook to add more users to its monthly active customer base of some 10 million to 12 million, about 95% of whom come from India. Two-and-a-half-year-old Koo is available in 11 languages already. Radhakrishna argues that Twitter being a predominantly English platform deprives many of an opportunity to voice their opinions in their native languages.
“Go to the smallest of towns, you have a conversation..every single person has a thought. How mature the content is, what are they talking about is the only difference,” says Radhakrishna. Hindi and Bengali are among the ten most spoken languages in the world, according to various media reports. Also, when it comes to the count of native speakers, Mandarin is understood to be leading in terms of the most-used language globally.
But the counterargument here is doesn’t Twitter allow people to write in languages other than English? One can tweet in languages that are supported by their devices but the platform allows translations only in English.
For instance, there is no option to translate a tweet in English into other languages but a tweet in say Hindi can be translated into English.
Radhakrishna says enabling people to tweet in a vernacular language is not enough, a user should be able to reach enough people conversing in the same language. “It is not just about talking in Bengali but talking to the right people in Bengali. If you want to go and speak in Bangla on Twitter, you can, but who are the guys who are following you on Twitter...it is the English folks. You are not being followed by Bangla folks on Twitter. When you speak in Bangla, the English guys will not even read it. Your natural behaviour is to continue to talk in English because your followers are English and you can’t distribute it to Bangla folks because they are not on Twitter. They are on Koo. It is not just about the translation, but about having developed different communities to which you can actually at once talk English to English, Hindi to Hindi, and Bangla to Bangla. And that is what we have created,” Radhakrishna says.
The Twitter turmoil then is only creating scope to grab a slice of the English-speaking users alongside widening its base of non-English-speaking users. In fact, Radhakrishna claims that some English-speaking users have shifted to the platform in recent times. “The English community has definitely seen a jump because a lot of people who are now sceptical about what will happen with Twitter now want to establish their presence on a parallel platform. And Koo is the only option. We have seen that spike. Another spike in demand is that we see requests from other countries to be available for them. That’s why we are moving into English-heavy territories like the US and the UK,” says Radhakrishna.
But how bright are Koo’s chances of succeeding? Of late, the company’s founders have been flooding LinkedIn with posts featuring the positive reception the app apparently garnered in Brazil where users can converse in widely spoken Portuguese language. However, there will be challenges to deal with. Firstly, the platform will have to be able to generate enough traction among users globally. Given that at present, the bouquet of languages available on the platform is restricted primarily to Indian languages, the usage of the platform may remain largely limited among Indians. “Only when enough users get on board, can the engagement take on,” says Vaibhav Tamrakar, senior vice-president at 1Lattice (formerly PGA Labs).
Besides, the quality of content will play an important role in terms of giving it an edge in the market and the company will have to innovate to keep up with the digitally savvy young users who are shaping up the social narratives. “The quality of content and engagement that typical English users have created on Twitter is not exactly replicated on Koo right now. A lot of content is also driven by typical political and religious agenda that is driven on any such indigenous platform in India. They would probably be facing the same challenges that even Twitter is facing in terms of content moderation,” says Tamrakar. “More than singular content, the platform needs to make money. You can continue to offer free platforms; beyond the point what do you do, again survival becomes the issue,” add analysts.
Radhakrishna says that the platform has started preliminary monetisation by way of incorporating plug-in advertising. “Another parallel track is enabling transactions on the platform. We are experimenting and will see what works out. In a world where Netflix is going from subscription to advertising and Twitter is going from advertising to subscription and transactions, the truth is somewhere in between. There has to be a balance between advertising and transactions & subscriptions that will drive revenue for any successful platform” says Radhakrishna.
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