Is Software Eating our World in India ?

Just finished reading Marc Andreessen’s article on “Why Software Is Eating the World“.  An excellent read and worth your time, esp if you are not “seeing” what’s happening around of late.  As Simon Wardley comments on it, this article talks about mostly “what” and not “why”.

After reading this, I couldn’t help thinking and compare if it is really the case of software eating everything in our beloved country.

In the context of India, let me take a look at the industry examples that Mark talks about in his article and see if software is ruling the world.

Books – While it is known fact today that Amazon would launch the store in India sometime early next year, the only other name one can think of today is FlipKart.com. Beyond the top few cities, I don’t think if anyone knows this brand or uses it to buy books.  Back in 1999, we built india’s first online music store for a startup called Fabmall. We launched the original site in 9 weeks with complete payment integration from CitiBank (This was the first payment gateway implementation for CitiBank also and I still remember the integration issues and debugging them late into night, sitting in CitiBank office in Bangalore).  They went on to add Books, Electronics, Grocery and many more along the lines of Amazon.com.  I remember ordering groceries in the middle of the night to be shipped next day and I thought life was good. Alas, they were too early to the Indian market and couldn’t sustain for long.

What do I do for the books today? I rarely buy from Brick&Mortar stores. Mostly order kindle books and read-on laptop/tablet.  Costs less, delivered faster than any other approach and pretty much any book you can buy. On every count, they beat the physical stores.  Great, but “I” and people like me represent a miniscule percentage of India’s total population that buy books from online stores. Rest of the India continues to buy books from physical stores and probably for foreseeable future.

Music – Same story as books.  While the magnetic tape is dead in top tier-1 and tier-2 cities,  it still thrives in the rest of the population. While the younger generation has switched over to digital music, thanks to the countless clones of iPods, I haven’t seen anyone buying the music online. And where would they buy if they want to ? Internet connection at home is still a luxury in tier-3 cities and below.

In fact, when I asked my sister’s kid recently as to where she gets her music collection from, she looked at me with surprise as if the answer was obvious and replies  “Friends”. And where do these “Friends” get their music from ? The other “Friends”. This is where the Indian Jugaad comes to the rescue 🙂  You would find these enterprising guys in every corner of the main streets with a small one-room shop. Some just migrated from magnetic tape copying and CD burning business to digital versions. These guys, who usually have a techie friend (or a friend who knows a techie friend…) that can pirate latest music from torrents, would help you copy the latest music in bulk into your phone/digital player for just few rupees.

Video & Entertainment – Clearly, no one knows about NetFlix in India (except for the people like me who have directly worked with them or people working in MNCs visiting their US counterparts or people who closely monitor technology). Yes, some of us have youtube access and some download torrents regularly for latest movies etc. But to a large extent, it is still the movie halls & TV that dominate the scene. Even the online-ticketing is limited to top tier-1 cities. On the TV front, only now we are seeing some DTH providers transmitting half-a-dozen  or so HD channels.

LinkedIn –  I have been recruiting engg people in the past and I know several of my friends who recruit people into IT companies regularly. It seems that no one uses LinkedIn to recruit people although it sounds obvious that they should. We still rely heavily on the middle-men (recruiting agencies) and largely seem to be comfortable.  There are some other reasons, but I hope that this would change very soon (unlike the above)

 

Some interesting numbers from a different brick & mortar world. RBI estimates that only about 20% of Indian population have access to banking. Even if you take out the people within group of < 20 years, this is very sparse. With a total of about 84K branches (of all commercial and state run banks), only 5% of the villages have access to banking.

I can go on with more and more examples, but they all look like same story.  Our evolution to using the latest technology services doesn’t necessarily follow the steps the developed world has taken, and for a good reason. We probably will bump over several of the steps and catch-up with the latest. Cell phone is a good example.  This is one technology you would see in every corner of the country. You may find it difficult to find post office, internet connection, but you can pretty much expect someone having a cell phone.

But the analogy stops there. Our use of cell phone (again beyond the very small percentage of people who own connected smartphones) is pretty much limited to SMS and voice calls – what it was originally meant for.

I think that the root of the problem is still lack of widespread Internet connection. While we figured out some workarounds (digital music piracy examples), we are not gonna see a cell phone like revolution in other industries without widespread Internet connectivity.  I wonder what would drive this?

Some of us will continue to write software to eat the “worlds” out there, but not here and not now.

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