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Language Computing Market
Design Axes for the Indian Language Computing Market
The Indic-Computing project
Copyright � 2003 by A. Joseph Koshy
$Date: 2003/04/30 07:23:50 $
Despite nearly four decades of work, computing in local languages
remains unavailable to the common man in the Indian subcontinent. In
this article we identify seven core issues, namely power,
usability, interoperability, locality of information,
value addition, the effect of social structure and the quality
of the supporting development ecosystem, that need to be addressed
before pervasive Indian language computing can become a reality. We
analyse a few existing projects and show that the levels of success
achieved by these is consistent with their tackling of these seven
core issues. Finally, we present a ``road map'' for making computing
pervasive in Indian society and list the areas where the
Indic-Computing Project hopes to make a contribution.
Document status: Third draft.
Table of Contents
2 The Design ``Axes''
4 Road map
The so-called ``digital divide'' remains a yawning gulf today for most
Indian citizens. In a country with over one billion citizens, 99 out
of 100 do not use computers. Numerous organizations have attempted in
the past to increase the penetration of information processing
technologies in the Indian sub-continent. Until date, these efforts
have been relatively unsuccessful (see the sidebar The Case of the
Missing Market). Local language computing has not made inroads into
mainstream Indian society.
We believe that this situation has arisen because prior efforts have
not taken cognizance of the core characteristics that underlie the
Indian context. Rather unsurprisingly, these characteristics turn out
to be different from those in the so-called ``developed''
societies--in other words, a successful product or service for the
Indian subcontinent has necessarily to be designed differently from
one aimed at a ``developed'' market.
The major contributions of this article are as follows:
* We identify seven core areas that a computing technology needs to
address before it can succeed in the Indian context.
* We provide a model explains the lack of success of prior
initiatives to bridge the digital divide. The model can be used to
evaluate the impact a new technology would have in the Indian
* We offer for discussion, a ``road map'' for pervasive Indian
language computing that has a higher probability of success than
The Case of the Missing Market
Estimates of the size of the Indian language computing market vary
widely. A survey conducted by the Indian Institute of Information
Technology, Bangalore described the existing Indian language market as
predominantly DTP and print driven, with a market size of about INR 64
Crores (INR 640 million).
However, an article in the June 24th, 2002 issue of DataQuest,
author Yograj Verma estimated that the potential size of the Indian
language market to be as large as INR 65,260 Crores (INR 652.6
billion). According to this estimate, the potential size of the
indigenous market rivals that of the existing ``export oriented''
In reality, computing infrastructure has yet to make significant
headway into Indian society. The use of computers remains an
essentially urban phenomenon, mostly restricted to the English
speaking elite in the country. There clearly is a gap between what the
market could be and what today's market players are able to provide.
1.1 Target Audience
This document has been written with the following audiences in mind:
* Planners designing computing infrastructure for developing
societies. Many of issues highlighted here would be present in
other developing societies, and the solutions developed would be
of use there too.
* Software developers and development managers interested in
developing software for the Indian language software market.
* Educationists, especially those in Indian technical colleges.
* Open-source developers attempting to add support for Indian
languages to open-source software.
Awareness of the technical issues in Indian language computing is
assumed. The reader wishing to refresh his or her knowledge may find
tutorial sections of the Indic-Computing Handbook, and some of the
questions and answers in the Indic-Computing FAQ to be of help.
1.3 What this article is not
A few statements about what the article does not cover would also be
* The article does not cover the benefits that a pervasive computing
infrastructure brings to Indian society. It also does not go into
the issues of the appropriateness of information technology; as
with all tools, the use of information technology would be
appropriate in certain contexts and inappropriate in others; the
judgment call on this matter would need to be taken by the
* We do not identify specific end-user solutions that are needed in
the market today. Though there are many opportunities that we can
see, discussing these would be out of scope for this article. In
this document, we sketch the broad architectural characteristics
that successful solutions in the Indian context would possess.
1.4 Structure of this document
The rest of this article is structured as follows:
* In Section 2 we look at the seven core issues that need to be
solved before any computing technology can succeed in a
large-scale in the Indian context.
* We then analyse a few existing projects in Section 3 in the
framework of our model.
* Section 4 lists some of the next steps that need to be taken
up before pervasive computing can become a reality in the Indian
context. This section also provides the rationale for the tasks
that the Indic-Computing project has taken up.
The Design ``Axes''
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Last Modified: Wed Apr 30 12:56:11 2003