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Idea #2 — The right way to bring users online: Hybrid IVR and mobile apps for data migration

Watch the video for our 4-step approach to bring users online
Rocket Post is a telling example of India’s jugaad culture: over 11,000 people are subscribed to this news service in Uttar Pradesh that delivers hyper-local news on WhatsApp. News updates are delivered through the day and a special five-minute bulletin is delivered at 8pm every evening.

It is a shining case of Digital India taking root!

But what Rocket Post also exemplifies is another critical step in building a Digital India – that of developing relevant use cases for the end consumer. Consumers will come online only when they find value online.

Since the announcement of Digital India nearly two years ago, the move to shift more rural consumers has gathered momentum. A slew of free/highly subsidized Internet services have been launched, ranging from Facebook’s internet.org to Jio’s free Internet for several months to Airtel’s zero rating.

However, these services haven’t contributed significantly to the number of people going online. A study by the Association for Affordable Internet shows, in fact, that 9 of 10 respondents who used zero rating services were already users of the Internet before going online through these services. Only 15% of the users surveyed in India went online for the first time through a zero rating service.

This is surprising; why aren’t users coming online, even if offered the Internet for free?

If access and affordability are not the impediment, what is?

The barriers to going online

A study by McKinsey may have some answers: one of the key barriers India faces is the lack of incentives to go online. These “include a lack of awareness of the Internet or use cases that create value for the offline user, a lack of relevant (that is, local or localized) content and services.”

The dominant perception, especially in rural India, is that the Internet is a medium for entertainment – indeed, this BCG study highlights that music, movies, videos and social media form the mainstay of Internet use in rural India.

Although a good means, entertainment content alone is not enough to bring a substantial number of people online, or to push them to other uses thereafter. Women, for instance, given socio-cultural perceptions, aren’t going to be allowed online simply to access entertainment.

The key is to have content and services that matter to them.

Demonstrating use cases to build motivation for digital migration

The Internet is perhaps the world’s largest ecosystem to create two-sided markets. For a person to consume content, another person has to produce and publish that content. For a person to buy a used mobile phone on an online classifieds portal, another person has to sell their phone on the portal. For farmers to get information about the latest mandi or exchange prices, somebody has to publish the prices.

The crux of the problem lies here: if we don’t have someone publishing content or selling their products on one side, how will we get consumers on the other side? Seeding two-sided markets is not easy at all, especially when not everybody is on the same communication platform, ie. the Internet.

Our solution is simple, to start with demonstrating use-cases on a communication channel that even non-data users are already using.

We have developed extremely rich voice applications using IVR (Interactive Voice Response) systems and we have even successfully demonstrated complex two-sided information markets operating on IVR systems, which indeed is the lowest common denominator available to everybody. Our next innovation now is a hybrid IVR and app product which integrates the data and voice channels in a seamless manner, and provides a gentle transition for anybody to move to using data services.

Our mantra – identify relevant use-cases, get users to experience them on IVR, and provide them with a data migration strategy that gives them access to a richer and more global ecosystem.

Mobile Vaani’s 4 step process to bring users online

To bring users online, we first need to conceive of services that have relevant use for people economically and socially. We need to demonstrate these use cases, then facilitate people in learning to use the services.

And these use cases cannot be what we think of, in isolation from the communities themselves – they need to be conceived in collaboration with the communities, tapping into their needs and relevant to their everyday lives.

Watch the video to know more about our four-step approach to bring people online. The 4 steps:

  • Work with the community to conceive new use cases
  • Demonstrate these use cases on a platform that people are already using and familiar with, such as the IVR
  • Motivate migration to data services by using a combination of IVR and mobile apps – this hybrid strategy brings together people who have mobile phones and are familiar with an IVR system but don’t use data yet, and eventually motivate them to shift to a richer, more globally connected, multimedia experience through the app. See below for an example of how we are doing this for an agricultural advisory service where extension officers will have access to our app, while the smallholder farmers themselves can be on IVR.
  • Help users learn newer technology platforms by fostering ecosystems where advanced users can teach others and build social currency for themselves in the process.

How can you bring rural India online with us?

Are you interested in helping rural communities go online? Do you have use cases in mind that you would like to pilot in rural areas? Gram Vaani, with its rich experience in enabling users to leverage the power of mobile phones, can help. Let us work together to identify new ways in which digital information services can revolutionize lives of the people.

Email us at contact@gramvaani.org or call us on 011-6940 0445 for a detailed presentation on how we could work together!

We also want to add that the quality of service for data connectivity needs much improvement, as we all have experienced for ourselves. Even exciting services will create disappointment if the network does not work. Check out our work at IIT Delhi with consumer rights organization, CUTS, on running measurement studies to advocate for better QoS regulation for mobile Internet in the country, and write to us is you want to participate in these advocacy efforts.

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