India has the second largest population of internet users in the world—and it’s only getting bigger. Around 40 million new users come online in India every year, and not just from metropolitan centres, but increasingly from rural areas as well. And they’re no longer predominantly men: in the next three years, Google expects 45 per cent of internet users in India to be women.
According to Google, this rush of new users online has transformed the Indian economy and culture, from the rise of local startups to the growing use of e-commerce, digital payments, ride sharing, and online video by people from Jammu to Thiruvananthapuram.
Technology is a key tool in crises, but it’s also critical for supporting India’s ongoing national momentum. In this spirit, Google today made announcements at this year’s Google for India event, towards goals: making the internet work for more Indians and making its products more relevant to Indians.
India has gone online to rally behind the victims of the Kerala and Karnataka floods. Google’s Crisis Response team have turned on SOS alerts on Google Search in English and Malayalam, and activated Person Finder to help people search for family and friends. Locations of flood relief resources like shelters are being shared on Google Maps. Outside of the tech support, Google.org and Googlers are contributing over $1 million to support relief and recovery efforts. And others can also donate to Kerala flood relief on Tez (now Google Pay).
The first internet users in India consumed English-language content on their PCs, and later, on their high-end smartphones. Today, however, there is a generation of internet users with completely different needs—where their first and only internet experience is via a touchscreen and not a keyboard. And to provide high-quality internet access, Google Station is partnering Andhra Pradesh State FiberNet Limited to cover over 12,000 villages, towns and cities in the state of Andhra Pradesh, potentially reaching 10 million people. This will provide high-quality internet access to areas that have never been connected before, from hospitals to villages.
According to a study by Google, many of India’s new internet users favour listening and speaking over reading text. “That’s why we’re launching a new feature in Google Go that lets you listen to webpages. Powered by natural language processing and speech synthesis AI, this technology can read billions of webpages smoothly in a natural sounding voice. It supports 28 languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Marathi and Tamil—even on 2G connections,” added Google.
Google has also started a project called Navlekhā, a word derived from Sanskrit meaning “a new way to write.” This project comprises a tool that uses AI to render any PDF containing Indian language content into editable text, making it easy for print publishers to create mobile-friendly web content. It also provides Indian language publishers with free web hosting with AdSense support, so they can immediately start monetising their content. Publishers will also receive training and support, and a branded.page domain for the first three years. Navlekhā has already started onboarding publishers from Delhi, and Google plans to welcome many more from other regions in September.