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Koo: A fluke or a sustainable alternative to Twitter?

It has reportedly seen a 10-fold rise in downloads this week.

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KOLKATA/NEW DELHI: Amid the standoff between the government and Twitter, a new microblogging site has emerged as the beneficiary. Homegrown platform Koo, which provides a Twitter-like experience to Indians has gained a fair amount of traction in the last few days, especially after government officials began endorsing it. It has reportedly seen a 10-fold rise in downloads this week. However, it is not easy to sustain this growth in the presence of a social media giant like Twitter, experts opined.

The spat between the Jack Dorsey-owned social media network and the Indian government began when Twitter restored several accounts and tweets that the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) wanted blocked from public view. While the ministry ordered Twitter to block 257 URLs and one hashtag, the latter stated that it would not comply with the order fully. As the acrimonious back and forth dragged on, one “Aatmanirbhar app” suddenly stepped into the limelight.

Koo has verified handles of MeitY, MyGov, Digital India, India Post, National Informatics Centre (NIC), National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NIELIT), Common Services Center, UMANG app, Digi Locker, National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) and Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) to name a few. It was launched in March 2020.

“There is not any microblogging site on the horizon but Twitter right now. And its ongoing tussle with the government is known to all. So, that's why an app like Koo has come into existence. And if you want to look at it from an advertisement platform perspective, Twitter is not an ad medium like Facebook or Instagram. Brands go there (on Twitter) to check the pulse of the audience," Digital marketing expert Amit Lall said.

While all big-ticket brands actively and effectively use Twitter, it is not certain how many of them will jump on the Koo bandwagon right away. As Lall said, businesses will always put money where the audience is, largely depending on the people movement on the platform. Additionally, the quality of content will also matter. He gave the example of TikTok and how many brands were reluctant to put their money on the short video format app despite a huge number of eyeballs, as the quality of content and brand safety was a big concern for them.

What sets Koo apart from Twitter, and might be a decisive factor in its growth story, is that it caters to eight regional languages. This allows Koo users to post multimedia content, including audio clips. It was one of the winners in the 'social category' of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge as well.

Grapes Digital COO Shraddha Agarwal expressed happiness over the fact that someone has created a truly Aatmanirbhar app and how the government is supporting it. But new users aren’t enough to sustain the app in the long run. Although vernacular influencers are looking for platforms like these to build their following and monetise their content but that will only be possible if the advertisers follow them, she explained.

Indian apps are used to playing second fiddle to multinationals, but lately they are emerging out of the shadows with the advancement in technology, and invention that breaks through clutter, said The Marcom Avenue director Divanshi Gupta.

“The sudden rise of this Made in India app can draw media and market attention, however, its relevance cannot yet be identified considering not much data is available on its usage, and the platform is yet to establish its niche,” she noted.

“People already are using so many apps, why would they like to get yet another one on their phones. Do they really have that sort of time to engage with content on multiple platforms? Unless you ban Twitter, I don’t feel that the app will be able to get the same kind of user base,” BangInTheMiddle managing partner & chief creative officer Prathap Suthan commented.

On the other hand, FreeFlow (Mindspace Ventures) co-founder & chief integrator Aaquib Hussain stated that there is no paucity of subscribers hungry to be part of the digital burst of consumption , commerce and customer behaviours. Rather than competing with the giants in one go, it would be well served in catering to more local requirements with universal appeal in similar demographic setups. According to Hussain, the audience imagination bracket is ever expanding and the bandwidths are ever evolving. He made a valid argument that the first scale factor and penetration in the context of Indian masses makes these platforms a viable option to the giants on collaboration rather than competition.

“Keeping in mind all the potential that the app and developers might have to make it compete with global giants, it will be difficult for them to shatter the image that they have been launched with. It seems like only a certain section of the society, supporting a certain ideology is moving to Koo. And any sane individual won’t like to spend time on a platform that has a homogeneous sort of content to offer,” Suthan remarked.

Interestingly, a report has suggested that despite getting on the government’s wrong side and calls of #BanTwitterinIndia, there’s been no impact on its app downloads yet. According to Sensor Tower data, Twitter went up between 1-9 February, seeing eight lakh downloads, compared to five lakh downloads in the 23-31 January period. Concurrently, Koo witnessed over two lakh downloads during 1-9 February.

On the monetising aspect, Agarwal said: “You can push the app massively with the investments that you have and can get more followers but to sustain in the long run, you will need more advertisers moving in. The one challenge that I see to that happening is the image that the app has got made for itself.”

“The same thing happened with TikTok too, when there were people actually rallying to get it banned. But TikTok did a massive campaign to counter that. They had mall activations going on. So, if you have that sort of money to market the app, you can surpass this one. But again, we will have to wait and see how many people are actually adding one more app to their phones and how viable are they as an audience to the advertisers,” she added.

Even as Koo trends and tastes unforeseen glory, it has already landed in controversy. Ethical hacker Elliot Alderson has recently claimed that the Koo app is leaking its users' personal information such as name, date of birth, marital status, e-mail ID and gender. Koo app founder Aprameya Radhakrishna has staunchly denied the allegation, insisting the data visible is something that the user has voluntarily shown on their profile on the platform.

(With inputs from Mansi Sharma)

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