Koo app, a social networking startup from India, recently reached over 4 million downloads in just a week. We are investigating what this means for the digital space and whether this indigenous platform can continue to reign, and potentially bypass Twitter.
One might think that Koo raked in this latest windfall solely due to the AtmaNirbhar (self-reliance) narrative in India. But it was also the alleged spread of misinformation on Twitter during the farmers’ protest that prompted users to join Koo. The government had asked Twitter to take down a particularly inciting hashtag from its platform and accused the business of non-compliance with the law. Later, several eminent personalities from politics, entertainment, and industry flooded the Koo app with their support. The list included public figures like Piyush Goal, Prakash Javadekar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani, Anupam Kher, Anil Kumble, among many others.
Koo is a microblogging app with a yellow chick as the logo. It is based out of Bengaluru, co-founded by Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka, and has received funding from Mohandas Pai-backed 3one4 capital and other prominent Indian investors. The app started receiving attention in August 2020 when it won the government’s AtmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge. It also got a mention by the Prime Minister in Mann Ki Baat.
With the recent migration from Twitter to Koo, one question is imminent: Will the ‘Made in India’ fervour die down, or can Koo spread its wings to overtake Twitter as the preferred microblogging site in India? Some believe that celebrity endorsements will not sustain the impact long enough. While others feel that Koo is on track to capture a massive demography with its unique offerings. Read on to gather insights about both the viewpoints.
Koo set to amplify Indian voices:
With the arrival of the pandemic began a new phase for digitization as people and businesses started moving online in large numbers. As we started looking to connect with others, Koo made a headway trying to tap the market that was not explored by Twitter. Let’s take a look at the numbers: there are 1.3 billion people in India, out of which about 600 million are internet users. Twitter currently has 17.5 million Indians on its platform. So, there’s immense potential for another app in microblogging space that isn’t largely limited to the educated, English-speaking, urban population that is on Twitter.
What do the consumers really want? They are either looking to express themselves, or they are seeking to reach people who are like them. For instance, a journalist hopes to get in touch with another journalist, a politician with the public, or a common man with the government or an IAS officer. Then, there is the aspirational angle. People also wish to connect with their favourite actors and celebrities. So, the crème de la crème of society joining Koo is a major pull generally, not just in the context of India.
Moreover, Koo isn’t trying to replicate Twitter. According to one of the co-founders, their problem statement is different. They are not just targeting a massive demographic but also emphasizing representation. “For anyone trying to do something in India, they have to first find the problems and realities that are relevant to India. We have certain patterns that people in other parts of the world don’t have. We weren’t selected because we created something like Twitter. The government could understand what we were trying to solve was something for India on a much larger scale,” he said in a recent interview.
After the Indian government’s support, Koo is set to gain a decent size of the market. It is important to note here that the app is not trying to overthrow Twitter or shut down foreign companies but providing a valuable alternative to Indians with its six-language USP. It currently supports Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Marathi. As IT veteran Mohandas Pai recently told Financial Express Online, “Indians should never be at mercy of a business registered outside India. We don’t lack technology, human capital, and ability. Hackers can go after every large technology company. We shouldn’t throw cold water on our own startups.” Therefore, Koo is making an attempt at amplifying the voice of Bharat by providing something special.
Beating Twitter not an easy game:
On the other hand, some industry experts believe that leveraging traction through celebrities and politicians would not take Koo very far. Well-known social media & PR strategist Anoop Mishra highlighted the same to Financial Express, saying that endorsements may work in the short term but would fail to attain stability and sustainability, irrespective of the audience you are serving.
Then, there are alleged privacy issues with the app. A French cyber expert has released a report about Koo, claiming that the app lacks basic firewall protection for its users. Ever since the app rose to prominence, several such claims have emerged. Robert Baptiste raised concerns around the data collected by Koo. “The app is leaking personal data like email, date of birth, name, marital status, and gender,” he wrote on Twitter.
Further, the home-grown angle of Koo isn’t new. Indian startups have taken on foreign rivals in previous instances, such as Flipkart vs Amazon, Quikr vs OLX, Ola vs Uber, Swiggy vs UberEats etc. Only a handful Indian startups emerged victorious in the Indian battleground. With this view, once Koo gets the masses, it needs to manage the growth well. This can’t happen if the product offering doesn’t cover all the bases, including security features.
Also, it is tough to beat one of the biggest social networking services in the world. Twitter has been around since 2006, improving its interface, settings, and user capabilities. And Koo isn’t the only Indian-made microblogging app on the circuit. There are similar solutions like Tooter, MitraSetu, Mastodon, and Hungry Tripper. Although some of these haven’t sustained, they indicate a lot about the future of microblogging sites in India, especially when they don’t hold a critical mass. So, without the user pull, opinion leadership, active engagement, and security strength, it would be challenging for Koo to succeed and emerge on the top.