India’s offline mobile internet is going open source (Wired UK)


Spencer Lowell


Indian entrepreneur, founder of Innoz, creator of
the “offline search engine” and WIRED 2013 speaker Deepak Ravindran is giving away the source
code for the offline net, with telecoms providers in Pakistan, Sri
Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Nigeria and Kenya
onboard and ready.

When Deepak Ravindran was trying to work out the answer to a
question one day, but found himself stuck with what he calls “a
dumb phone”, the computer science graduate quickly realised there
was a gaping social problem that needed a solution.

When he launched SMSGyan three years later, 700 million mobile
phone users in India were not online — within two years, his
service made sure 120 million of them were. The system allows users
to text any question, before the SMSGyan algorithm crawls the
internet for answers — Ravindran’s company Innoz partnered with Wikipedia, Bing and Wolfram Alpha. It could
be used to send Gmail emails, to post on Facebook or even
tweet.

The product boomed in a few short years following
partnerships with every telecommunications provider in India, and
it soon came preloaded on devices. “We were profitable from day
one,” Ravindran tells WIRED.co.uk. “We monetised it through
cellular subscription, one rupee per query, and developed a
subscriptions model of 30 rupees a month.” Ravindran believed,
at the time, they had “cracked the model”.

Then came Android.

“India is one of the largest consumer markets, and they like
multipurpose items, whether it’s a phone that doubles up as a torch
or a FM radio; the Indian consumer is always looking for
value.”

When low-end Android phones hit the market, smartphone
penetration skyrocketed. In September of this year, India was named the fourth largest smartphone market, with 111
million connected devices.

Accepting that the market had moved on, but knowing he and his
team had built a product worth salvaging, Ravindran looked to other
markets.

“At launch, other countries had been calling us to get this,
especially in Africa and southeast Asia — there they did not have
as much internet usage as in India or as many smartphone
users.”

As a result of this demand, WIRED.co.uk can exclusively reveal
that Ravindran has this week decided to give away the source code
for free via the offlineinternet.org.
“The time is right for us to take the bold action of making our
offline internet service free — and we are going even further by
committing to post the source code for free,” Ravindran said.

“By giving away the source code, we can ignite the creative
energies of the entire developer community and fuel unprecedented
levels of innovation in the SMS market. Customers can benefit from
world-class technology advancements, the development community
gains access to a whole new market opportunity and Innoz core
businesses benefit from licensing it with telecom operators.”

The company has already sold the licenses to these operators,
with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia,
Nigeria and Kenya all interested.

The software itself has already been passed to two startups,
mobile software development firm Sari
Software
in the Philippines, and one owned (but not yet
incorporated) by entrepreneur Mo Mughal. Explaining
the move, Ravindran said: “My quest as an entrepreneur was to think
‘what is the exit strategy for investors’.”

Acquisitions for offline companies were few and far
between, he said, “but we didn’t want to shut it down.” The team
had spent five years on the product —
there’s even an app for the offline search function –
and knew it was in demand elsewhere in the world.

“No matter what, this should exist and should run,” Ravindran
said. “Ignoring the fact that this will not make money. I discussed
inside the team, and the main reason for doing it was quite simple:
during the days of Netscape, they took it open source when it was
decided not to go further. That’s how Mozilla was formed, which
launched Firefox, which is one of the best open source companies
around the world.

“I feel, and this is an entrepreneur’s bet on a long run, it’s
only a matter of time before we can prove whether this can fly or
not fly.”

Ravindran, who recently launched a “Whatsapp for business” in
India called Lookup,
understands that, as with any offline business, the threat of
change is looming. Soon, every one of us will be online, with
initiatives like Google’s Project Loon and Facebook’s internet.org on the horizon. However, Ravindran
does not see why any country with mobile penetration should wait to
get online. His tool can get them there, now.

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28 November 2014 | 3:26 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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