An Indian startup thinks it has figured out the key to make it easier for more people to have email accounts, but it may solved only part of the big puzzle.
Two months ago, Jaipur-based startup Data XGen Technologies announced DataMail, an email service which offers email addresses in several Indian languages. The service, paid at the time, is aimed at the vast majority of Indians who cannot write or speak English.
It has now partnered with state-run BSNL to provide email addresses in Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, and Marathi for free.
"It’s now possible in every part of India to have an email address in their own language and communicate in preferred language”, said Anupam Shrivastav, Managing Director, BSNL in a press statement.
India has around 350 million internet users, which accounts for less than 30 percent of the country’s population. BSNL and Data XGen are eyeing the rest of the population with the new service. As noble as their mission is, it doesn’t seem the two companies thought through the idea.
There’s certainly an appeal in DataMail. We tested the app and created a few email addresses in Hindi language. Everything is straightforward and creating an email address is a breeze.
Several popular email services such as Gmail offer support for Hindi and other local Indian languages. At their will, users can draft and send emails in Hindi or any other language. However, DataMail is the first service to offer email addresses in Indian languages.
Speaking with Mashable India, Arvind Pani, Co-founder and CEO at Reverie Language Technologies, a company that offers several solutions for communications in Indian local languages, said users who are able to read in Hindi, for instance, are typically literate enough to write in Hindi, for instance. Reverie’s services are powering DataMail app.
Though we had no trouble using the app and creating email addresses in local languages, it soon became clear why email addresses and Indian languages haven’t gotten along well before. There’s a big wall between users who can type in Hindi (or other local languages) and those who can’t. DataMail doesn’t even address the issue.
And this problem quadruples while using DataMail. It’s very hard for users who cannot write in Hindi or other supported languages to communicate with users who have an email address in a non-English language.
Email is a communication medium that has existed for decades on a simple consensus. The consensus is that any two or more parties can communicate as long as they have an agreement over bare minimum protocols on how they will send and receive emails. If someone, regardless of their location, isn’t able to type your email address, that renders the service useless.
While all popular smartphone operating systems — Windows Phone, Android, and iOS — offer Indic keyboard and also support third-party keyboards that come with similar functionalities, the key question is how does one send an email to a person, whose email address is in a language that they do not understand?
It’s a limitation that could cut short the relevance and usefulness of DataMail among users, especially if there is no fallback mechanism (alias addresses in English or the user’s mobile phone number, maybe?) for everyone else to be able to send emails to DataMail users.
This brings us to the most critical point — is email still relevant as a communication tool for mobile-first internet users who have never had email addresses or felt the need for it?
Most services these days don’t necessarily require an email addresses any more to create an account — a mobile phone number is good enough. Even India’s newly launched Unified Payment Interface, which has been implemented by over 30 banks in the country, uses mobile phone numbers to create virtual addresses to which anyone can transfer money. Indian users are already transferring money to mobile phone numbers when they use mobile wallets.
In mobile-first and increasingly mobile-only India, there has to be a better alternative to emails and having email addresses in local languages just does not cut it.