New Delhi: Plans to get India’s vast non-English speaking population online through a dot bharat domain name in local languages have failed to take off, experts said, even as the government is considering tapping the social media platforms to raise awareness about the initiative.
The National Democratic Alliance government launched the domain name in August as part of plans to bridge India’s digital divide. It was launched in the Devanagari script covering several local languages, including Hindi, Dogri, Konkani, Maithili, Marathi, Nepali and Sindhi. Subsequently, the domain name was launched in Bengali, Gujarati and Manipuri as well.
The aim was to get more non-English speaking Indians to use the Internet in their own languages.
However, the dot bharat initiative has failed to draw expected response, industry analysts said.
“I am not sure if it will be able to increase Internet penetration, but users of certain languages may get attracted to domain name dot bharat (.bharat) in regional languages,” said Osama Manzar, founder and director of not-for-profit organization Digital Empowerment Foundation and member of IT for Masses working group at the ministry of communication and information technology.
“However, it wouldn’t make any difference for non-city or rural people since it (.bharat pages) will not be hosting any critical information—information that makes a difference in the lives of rural people.”
“Hosting sites in the regional domain language extension may be a complementary thing, but the criticality of the information is more important. If the government doesn’t host informative content in regional languages on webpages using .bharat, why would people bother to use this domain name?” he said.
“Even if people use these domain names, if there is no regional language content on it, it won’t be of any use. There is no incentive for people to create content in regional languages. Once you are on the Web, it doesn’t matter which website or domain name you use as long as you get the information. This sort of identity crisis doesn’t matter to people.”
“It is a brilliant gimmick but it doesn’t help in any way,” Manzar added.
While .in, which is India’s country code top-level domain (ccTLD), crossed the 1.7 million mark (i.e. number of registered and bought .in domain names) in April with 103 registrars, who have been accredited to offer the domain name registration worldwide to customers, there is no data available on .bharat. According to industry experts, there are only a handful of people who have applied for the .bharat domain name.
The government is now looking to tap social media platforms to raise awareness about the .bharat domain name in regional languages.
The Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY) is planning to hire a social media agency to help increase .in and .bharat registries online, according to a tender floated by the department.
The move is also aimed at promoting the use of domain names in Indian languages by small and medium businesses.
The chosen social media agency will work for the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), a government platform for facilitating exchange of domestic Internet traffic among the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) in India, thus enabling the efficient use of international bandwidth by avoiding multiple international hops.
“Launching of .bharat in Devanagari and Indian languages is expected to increase the reach of Internet users to access domain names in their own language to cover over 70% of the Indian population living in the rural and remote areas,” said the ministry tender dated 12 June.
Under the initiative, the ministry will look at weekly reports analysing the social presence of these domain names to find out ways to engage users. “The programme will undertake monitoring across 150-200 keywords,
primarily in the markets of all over the world, and will create and manage a monitoring platform which will be both predictive and reactive in approach,” the tender said. It will also run a social media campaign to generate content for social channels and blogs and run programmes to engage users at the grassroots level.
But experts aren’t entirely convinced.
“It is the classic chicken-and-egg problem. Unless there is vernacular content on the Web, people won’t come online, and if vernacular people don’t come online, there won’t be vernacular content creation,” said Jaijit Bhattacharya, government transformation expert and partner, government lead, KPMG India.
“The government has to be the one to take initiative to create vernacular content. Netizens can’t do that.”
“While .bharat will not create an impact in a short run, it is a positive move in the big picture context,” he said.
As many as 90% of Indians are non-English speakers and a majority of them can’t access the Internet. “To make this sort of thing work, you need to have connectivity in rural areas first, but that’s also not happening in a strong way,” said Manzar. “The government should rather create web pages with critical information and host it on .bharat—then only will it make sense.”
Mint has a strategic partnership with the Digital Empowerment Foundation.