India is an interesting emerging digital market. A number of American news outlets such as the Huffington Post and Business Insider are setting up India-specific versions of their sites in the hope of attracting new English-speaking users, but newspapers and television remain popular there, and the web simply hasn’t caught on as a news source yet. Meanwhile, many of India’s younger Hindi-speaking generation are turning to inexpensive smartphones. They are using their phones for entertainment, but because most news sites are in English and old media are cheaper, they don’t spend their data allowance that way.

On the Nieman Report, Hasit Shah writes about a new platform he is developing, called Ketla. It depicts news stories in the form of digital comics to convey news and information to non-English-speakers who may not be fully literate.

There are other uses for Ketla, too. A local healthcare provider, for example, might want to publicize a free service for pregnant women and explain why it’s important. Ketla could help the provider create and distribute a digital comic strip for that purpose. Because the platform uses illustrations, not video, the data is light enough to work across India’s erratic networks. Text is minimal, so it can be easily translated to any of India’s officially recognized languages. Plus, the content is shareable via existing social media platforms like WhatsApp, which helps further extend its reach.

With the addition of translation software, including apps that provide real-time translations of text via a phone’s camera, this initiative shows promise for reaching the 90% of Indians who don’t speak English, and helping them communicate with each other even if they don’t speak the same language.

India represents an interesting case in the emerging use of cheap digital technology to bridge gaps in language and culture. Rather than a “digital divide,” this seems to be a case where digital is helping to bridge an analog divide. Small wonder inexpensive mobile devices are so popular over there.


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