BENGALURU: Indian micro-blogging platform Koo surged into prominence last month after a number of prominent personalities, including Union ministers, joined the platform, especially after Twitter refused to comply with the Central Government’s directives on taking action against some users. Koo is being promoted as an Indian alternative to Twitter. But Koo co-founder Mayank Bidawatka says that the platform was not created to compete with Twitter, but only to help connect those who speak native Indian languages. Excerpts.
How is Koo different from other platforms like Twitter? What are its unique features?
We are a nation of 1.3 billion people, but just 10 per cent understand or prefer English as a language. That leaves out at least a billion people who are comfortable with some native Indian language. We realised that there is very little participation of these people on Twitter. With Koo, people can select a language that they are comfortable with which is a major difference from Twitter.
Users can also get a list of people based on their language and choose to follow them. We show content creators, celebrities and VIPs in a particular language which is not a feature in Twitter. It is a very focused approach to benefit the creator and user by showing right kind creatives. In Twitter, however, everything is search-based.
Will it be an Indian alternative to Twitter and other global platforms?
Twitter is a great global platform. I think they have democratised the voice of the world. I have great respect for Twitter. Let me make it very clear that our objective is not to compete with them. I am a Twitter user and am able to connect with so many global people that I would never have access to otherwise. Koo has been created so that Indians who do not speak English also get a voice on a micro-blog. No country in the world has as many languages as India does.
A lot of people feel marginalised as they don’t have a platform to connect with other people. A lot of things that have happened in the recent past make it seem like we are competing with Twitter, but that was never our plan.You received $4 million funding recently...Funding was raised with the participation of one of our new investors and it will basically be used for product development.
Are you in talks with Indian venture capitalists?
We have received a lot of interest from VCs and we will engage with them.
There is an impression that Koo is a government-backed platform...
We are humbled by the trust and faith that has been placed on us as a platform, which is being joined by some prominent politicians and people running the government. It helps bridge the gap between people who want to know and people who want to say something. I think the government is a very important cog in the wheel as far as communication with citizens is concerned. But the platform is not government-backed, but is government-trusted.
A lot of events have aligned themselves and worked in our favour. In August, we had participated in an app challenge run by the government, which had around 7,000 entries. From among them, they selected around 20-24 apps, and we were one of them. We were not just creating another micro-blogging platform, but a true micro-blog for India and Indian languages. The government recognises that most people do not speak English or prefer English as a primary language, which is why the platform was found to be interesting. The government recognises that we need to create the Aatmanirbhar ecosystem in different industries. We just happen to be at the right place at the right time.
The internet is supposed to ensure the free flow of information. How do you intend to strike a balance between following overnment guidelines and allowing people to express themselves freely?
It is important to work within the legal framework. If you don’t do that you are disrespecting the law of the land. Social media is social because it is by the people and for the people. In case of newspapers, publishers are liable for anything written, but in the case of social media, since we are not content creators, the liability lies with the creator, which is why verification becomes an important tool to manage the responsibility that citizens are given.
Article 19 of the Constitution talks about freedom of speech and there are certain legalities that supercede that right. 99.99 per cent of the content generated on social media is normal and harmless. You will have some unscrupulous elements trying to create havoc. It is very difficult and manually impossible to track down every little content like that. You have to depend on certain technologies and community effort for that. We are using various algorithms that help us identify such content and we have also put in place features that help the community identify such content and highlight it to the creator.
What is being done to protect user privacy data, which has been flagged by users?
Koo got prominence in India and also spoke of globally. There are enough people trying to hack into our systems to show us in bad light. Some people are talking about data privacy issues by using information that the users have made public. Data security is an important issue and we take it seriously. It is difficult to break into our system.