India can make globally competitive tech products, says Phaneesh Gururaj, Head of Tech at Koo

Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have long ruled the game of virtual connections. At TechSparks 2021, keeping with the theme of rethinking the future, Phaneesh Gururaj of Koo shared what building a social product for a diverse audience entails.
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English is the most spoken language in the world, but 75 percent of the world population speaks languages other than English. In India, which has a population of 1.38 billion people, English is not the primary language for almost a billion people. 

This set the social and business premise for Bengaluru-based Koo, India's first-ever homegrown microblogging platform. At India’s largest startup-tech conference TechSparks 2021, Phaneesh Gururaj, Head of Tech at Koo App, shared what building a social product for a diverse audience entails. 

Enabling expression at scale 

Phaneesh said that language is a barrier as many people are comfortable in expressing their thoughts and experience in their mother tongue. 

In India, which has 23 official languages, users are not able to fully enjoy the platforms as they were built with the English-speaking audience in mind. 

“Koo as a product exists at this point in time because we want to enable expression for the broader India,” he said, in a masterclass session on ‘Building India’s first-ever homegrown microblogging platform’.

Phaneesh said the platform is now focussed on building various language models catering to native and vernacular languages, which can be translated and transliterated in the backend to understand the overall sentiment behind a post - which will allow people speaking different languages to connect. 

“As we get the playbook right, we can extend the platform to non-English speakers as well,” he added.

Engagement on the platform 

The factors determining what a user sees on their feed are a user’s timeline of logging onto the platform, freshness, relevance, first-degree network, reactions through comments and likes. 

“For example, for a person interested in sports more than politics, Koo would show an older sports content rather than a politics content that is new. There should be real-time personalised feed for users,” he explained.

Koo’s entity recogniser also helps extract content based on important and trending terms. The platform has built its own language models to understand Named Entity Recognition (NER).

For people creating content, and consumers, on the other end, it ensures a sticky network to gain traction and consistent user gratification. However, while solving for a billion Indians in mind, it emphasises a strong security system and data protection. 

With 10 million users constantly generating content in the form of audio, video, and text, it enables search capabilities by leveraging machine learning and natural language processing (NLP). 

“We have to be very good at capturing a user's journey on the platform. There are huge volumes of analytics and we have built a data platform, which ingests these data,” he said, adding that the algorithm keeps evolving as users interact.  

Phaneesh added that platforms like Koo show that competitive global tech products can be developed from India. 

“We have embraced a lot of products from the western world and the Indian population has been using those products on a day-to-day basis, but we can actually build world-class products for ourselves, keeping in mind the needs of Indians,” he added. 

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Edited by Megha Reddy