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The Web Gets Hindi-Savvy

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DQI Bureau
New Update

Somemajor players in the dot-com arena–Satyamonline, Lycos Asia, CNET and CIOL–havechosen Webdunia to manage the Hindi content on their sites.

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The idea of Webdunia was conceived in 1997. Long before thedot-com boom, Vinay Chhajlani dreamt of an Indian language portal. Chhajlani, a1984 gold medalist from the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences, startedhis own software companies–Diaspark and Suvi Information Systems–in 1988.

In 1999, Chhajlani resigned from the boards of the twocompanies, which then together had a turnover of $15 million with offices in theUS and India, to devote attention to his Indian language Internet endeavor. Hestarted Webdunia in Indore with a team of 20 professionals. The focus was todevelop applications and components that would enable the presence of Indianlanguages on the Internet.

Webdunia was launched in September 1999 with a $2.9 millionfunding. Prakash Bhalerao (an angel investor) and Passionfund and WaldenInternational (both venture capital companies) invested in the venture. It hasreportedly earned total revenues of Rs 30 crore since October 1999, solelythrough selling space, and hopes to break even by January 2002–it claims 7.5million page views, as of June 2000. Webdunia’s other properties areWebulagam.com, a Tamil site launched in April; Epatra, a multilingual e-mailservice, and eVarta, a multilingual chat service. The site contains news updatesin politics, society and culture, science and technology, entertainment andinfotainment. It also features recipes of the choicest Indian cuisine, and aunique Webdunia Khoj, a search engine in Hindi, which makes browsing, search anddownload of Hindi Web sites faster.

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The language factor

On Webdunia’s decision to target the Hindi-speaking Netusers, Parvindar Gujral, VP, strategic alliances and business development,Webdunia, says, "If you notice carefully, all major players have started tospeak of languages. Notice Lycos saying that it is more local because it is inHindi, and CNET announcing that it is targeting Hindi." All are eyeing theover 50-crore potential users who speak Hindi worldwide. Another 80 crore speakBengali, Tamil, Gujarati and six other Indian languages–a market set toexplode once IT truly reaches the masses.

Webdunia, with content in Hindi as its USP, is trying to wadeits way through the entire English-serving Web. It does so by retaining standardterms like download and network–best understood like that–using theDevnagari script. It uses Srilipi fonts and font-embedding technologies fromMicrosoft, Portable Font Resource and the Embeddable Open Type, for dynamicfonts. Other than this, it has also developed its own transliteration logicsoftware. Using Webdunia’s services–e-Patra and e-Varta–does not requirethe knowledge of typing in the desired regional language. It also does notrequire downloading any font for composing mails, or for viewing the pages.

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Webdunia’s future plans include launching a channel calledShahar where the user can get news updates and useful services in the city ofhis choice. It plans consolidation through partnerships and alliances with keyplayers in the field. It also plans to diversify the utilities offered to theuser by making their databases more accessible and searchable to the surfers.

BIJESH KAMATH

in New Delhi

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