Despite having 22 official languages and hundreds of dialects, Internet in India is still led by English. But Reverie Language Technologies Limited believes the Internet needn’t have to belong to the 4% English-speaking population of India alone. Here’s how the company is democratizing the Internet for Bharat.
There’s a commonly asked question in India – “What is your mother tongue?” A bit of a misnomer, but conveys the point to a fellow Indian – “What native language do you speak with your family and perhaps close friends?” Or “What is the language in which you think and feel your deepest emotions?” Majority of Indians are either bilingual, and in some cases even trilingual. Urban Indians are usually taught in English, government schoolchildren are taught in the state language and English. And they converse in their native language in their formative years, with family. By the age of 20, an average educated Indian is proficient in at least two languages and fairly competent in a third. At the very least, at the other end of the spectrum exists an Indian who can most definitely speak in at least one language.
So, what does this person do when handed one of the greatest technological inventions of modern times – the Internet? How does she find her place in this new, globalized world order? This was the big question on the minds of brothers Vivekananda and Arvind Pani, leading them to start Reverie Language Technologies Limited. Arvind says, “I have always wanted to solve problems that are uniquely Indian and affect Indians.”
Thinking Like An Indian, Building For An Indian
Reverie Language Technologies Limited, started in 2009, is a full stack Indian language technology solutions company. It seems a bit clairvoyant that the duo built a company that would ideate for Indian languages at a time when AI itself wasn’t prevalent in India. But Vivek says, “Frankly, we hadn’t heard of AI back when we started. We eventually understood that a lot of the products and features we wanted to build would come to rely on AI. We were more focused on developing local languages for the Internet – and this continues to be our mission even today. Difference was, 11 years ago, no one believed this was even a relevant problem to solve – why would we need Indian languages on the Internet?”
And he’s not wrong – the focus on Indian languages has only just started picking pace. Bharat, as a market, has only recently begun appealing to Indian businesses and the duo believes was due to the limitations presented by a primarily English speaking population. In a country of 1.3 billion, English speaking comprise less than 200-250 million. There’s still a massive population that converses and transacts in regional languages, and was slowly climbing up the ladder of prosperity and economic parity in India.
But of course, this knowledge came about to Indian businesses and technology companies as less as five years ago. So what was Reverie doing until 2015? Building display and support functions for Indian languages on operating systems. Reverie Language Technologies Limited is the first company in the world to build Indian language support for Android on display, brought on board in partnership with US chipmaker Qualcomm. From 2009 to 2015, the duo fortified these capabilities and sharpened their arsenal of products for language support, as more and more Indians began buying phones, with phone makers like Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Micromax, Lava, Karbonn, and several others making steady progress in India. “If you don’t have the right kind of road, how does it matter what car you buy? Similarly, for Indian languages to really assimilate, adequate infrastructure had to be developed first,” explains Vivek.
The real breakthrough in AI and related technologies, that Reverie Language Technologies Limited is now a market leader for, began only after 2015. This was done on the basis of some tenets – seamless customer experience was going to be the goal, which the team has since doggedly pursued. For this to happen, the team worked on a range of content repositories, and avenues for content conversion, publishing and creation. Next was sustaining customer engagement, for which they built tools like keypads with predictive typing, Speech-to-Text, Text-to-Speech and Natural Language Understanding to interpret queries and provide relevant responses.
Now, Reverie offers solutions for addressing all aspects of user engagement, like content conversion, user interfaces through text and voice, search and sentiment analysis in multiple languages, to name a few. Two of their most recent offerings are Anuvadak and Prabandhak. Anuvadak allows customers to publish their website content in regional languages, provides them tools to enable SEO in multiple languages and maintain content integrity in line with changes to the source language. Prabandhak is a marketplace for translation services, catering to the demand and supply side, and aims to aggregate the highly fragmented translation market in India.
Not Just Another Technology Company
For Vivek and Arvind, it was not just about building a company – it was about driving a mindset change and their calculated risks have indeed paid off. Today, Reverie Language Technologies Limited works with over 130 businesses in banking, fintech, ecommerce, insurance, government, healthcare, education and entertainment. In 2019, Reliance Industries Investments & Holdings acquired a controlling majority share in Reverie for Rs. 190 cr, making it the biggest deal for any language-based service platform in India to date. The partnership was a natural one, believes Arvind. “Reliance is a leader in driving digital transformation and aiding this through the mobile phone revolution. With our language-as-a-service capabilities, we augmented their comprehensive plan to connect India as a whole.”
While the deal with Reliance was a high point for the company, it has not superseded their passion for building products and evangelizing for Indian languages. Having been one of the earliest companies in this space, the duo has seen the landscape evolve right before their eyes. “I always say there are three types of people – the believers, the non-believers and the fence-sitters. When we started out, believers (like ourselves) were significantly outnumbered by the non-believers and fence-sitters. A decade on, I can say there are more believers than non-believers,” says Arvind. “The real opportunity lies in being able to see that language isn’t just a mode of communication, but a means to rich customer engagement. We have never taken our eyes off this theory, and our products, ideas and evangelization is in line with this tenet,” he adds.
When COVID19 Accelerated Need For Communication
This insistence on building for the consumer, and utilizing language to perfectly understand these niche customer needs is what helped even during the pandemic. “When COVID19 began and led to a nationwide lockdown, businesses suffered primarily because they had no means to talk to their immediate stakeholders. Moreover, misinformation was spreading faster than the disease itself, and it was a critical time to act. It led to businesses finally realizing that having a versatile and localized communication strategy was absolutely imperative to their sustenance. Digital channels warrant investment, and the pandemic proved that.” During the pandemic, Reverie Language Technologies Limited collaborated with telemedicine collective Project StepOne to provide telemedicine helpline in various Indian languages.
It has been a slow and steady journey. While a significant change is underway, the Pani brothers believe more needs to be done. “India can no longer be overlooked – in any sphere. The progress of technology tools to include Hindi is a step in that direction. But India has 22 official languages, and hundred other languages beyond the official status. The work has just started. The tech ecosystem is accustomed to thinking, ideating and working for an English-first medium, whereas the ethos of regional language speakers is entirely different.”
Why Evangelisation Is A Key Strategy
Which is why Reverie spends a considerable amount of time on building Indian language awareness, with the hope of ushering in a new paradigm in thinking and innovating on the Internet for Indians, in their language. “The Internet came to India in the mid-90s; and we have made remarkable progress in the past three decades. But all this growth has happened without the regional language speaker. Indians learn their native language first, which will remain with them lifelong. It’s time for the Internet, which is an indispensable part of their lives, to factor in this crucial element of their identity,” concludes Vivek.