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Koo and the quest for an Atmanirbhar social network

Final week, a 10-month-old social networking app brought about a flutter. Koo, an app that was quietly getting seen within the right-wing rabbit holes of the Indian web emerged into the mainstream and thrust itself because the Atmanirbhar different to Twitter. A point out within the Prime Minister’s Mann Ki Baat was seen as a tacit endorsement of its potential.

A number of Union ministers, their ministries and associated departments flocked to the app — which makes use of a yellow hen as its emblem, towards Twitter’s blue. So did a number of members of the ruling occasion. It was nearly as in the event that they have been making an announcement towards massive tech platforms which have lengthy been drawn into controversies over free speech on their platforms.

The latest controversy was round Twitter. Its defiance to comply with a authorities order to dam content material the Centre thought-about provocative gave the ministers a chance to shift to Koo. It additionally bolstered the federal government’s concerted push for an Atmanirbhar app ecosystem — a seek for homegrown alternate options to international know-how platforms like Twitter.

This led to a surge in obtain of Koo app as extra followers of those widespread politicians joined the bandwagon, using on the anti-Twitter sentiment. The end result? The app was downloaded 3 million instances.

In its personal manner, Koo would symbolise the federal government sentiment of self-reliance and the populist international grievance towards Huge Tech — that it has censored “anti-conservative” voices, departing from its “free speech” beliefs. This, unsurprisingly, has led to perceptions that Koo would additionally flip right into a smaller different social community — a lot within the mould of its international counterparts in Gab and Parler — with customers signing up both as a result of it brings collectively people disaffected with Huge Tech or as a result of it caters to a selected ideology.

The Bengaluru-based cofounder of Koo, Aprameya Radhakrishna, instructed ET throughout a podcast that it was a validation of the issue his firm was trying to remedy. “We’re a small firm constructing an app as a result of we needed to provide a voice to each Indian, no matter their ideology.” He pushed Koo’s non-partisan credentials by declaring that the app’s Kannada neighborhood has the chief minister, the deputy chief minister in addition to Janata Dal (Secular)’s HD Kumaraswamy and Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar.

He additional added, “I’m a businessman, I’m an entrepreneur. I knock on all doorways. I’ve no such bias. There are of us who transfer sooner than the others, as an entrepreneur. The sooner we transfer, the higher we get.”

Indians making an attempt their very own localised model of Twitter will not be new. There have been a number of unsuccessful makes an attempt. In 2017, there was Gutrgoo, a social media platform that loved a short second within the solar. The premise of the app was additionally disillusionment with Twitter. Indi-toot briefly rose to prominence however that too light away. Most lately, Tooter emerged as a “Swadeshi” social networking app.


However issues are a little bit totally different with Koo. First, it has enterprise cash backing the app — together with these by outstanding traders similar to Accel and Blume (which invested in Radhakrishna’s authentic enterprise Vokal, earlier than it pivoted to Koo). It additionally raised recent capital from 3one4 Capital and a bunch of Indian entrepreneurs like Zerodha’s Nitin Kamath and BookMyShow’s Ashish Hemrajani who purchased out Chinese language fund Shunwei’s stake.

Second, it has invested in an ecosystem mannequin by tying up with TV channel Republic and quick video-app Mitron for content material. This might guarantee a relentless provide of content material into the platform that might drive engagement and entice new customers.


Third, no less than two firms (Mitron and Koo) on this ecosystem have a standard investor (3one4 Capital). Additionally, Republic is linked to that widespread investor by way of Mohandas Pai, associate at Aarin Capital. Pai’s sons Siddarth and Pranav run 3one4 Capital. And most significantly, it has the federal government’s backing, no less than for now.

At the same time as Koo revels in its glory, international traits counsel that disillusioned customers who be part of these different networks proceed to make use of bigger platforms. This raises questions on its viability in the long run.

“If the federal government bans a platform like Twitter, then the viability of different platforms (like Koo) turns into excessive,” stated Alex Kantrowitz, a US-based journalist who writes the favored Huge Expertise publication. “But when the ruling occasion or its members proceed to make use of platforms like Twitter, not desirous to miss out on a worldwide mainstream social platform, then these networks might properly be a failure.”

Kantrowitz identified {that a} single person doesn’t sometimes drive engagement throughout a social community. “When Trump left Twitter, utilization didn’t change. His presence on another community like Parler may’ve generated a surge of curiosity there. However it’s arduous to say how a lot he, or any world chief, might affect a community as one particular person. Both manner, in the event that they’re collaborating within the mainstream social community, there’s little purpose for a mass of individuals emigrate to the smaller, different community.”

There are different questions, most prominently about content material moderation practices and the way that might play out at Koo — within the absence of well-laid-out neighborhood tips within the mould of Fb or YouTube — particularly if misinformation floor on the platform. “We’re very involved in relation to the lifetime of a human. So any person expressing their opinion, it doesn’t matter what it’s, I feel they’ve a proper to do it. We aren’t towards opinion. We’re all for freedom of speech, expression, every little thing,” Radhakrishna stated.

Koo immediately has a small group of human moderators, and has began constructing automated know-how to “flag off sure phrases”. Radhakrishna stated, “We constructed it across the use case of Indian languages, the place you koo in an Indian language, and there may be somebody who doesn’t know converse in that language as a result of they’re first-time web customers, they usually say ‘hello’. As a result of I wish to encourage conversations, we decide up some phrases like this and ship it to a unique bucket.”

He stated they’ve the aptitude to construct the know-how to observe sure phrases that is likely to be of self-harm or may incite public violence. “However, proper now, what’s reside is that any person can report or complain no matter they suppose is inflicting hurt, and we’ll check out it manually at our finish.”

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