Netting rural communities in India

By , agencyfaqs! | In | September 15, 2000
Multinational Information company IndiaHQ Solutions links up with local database providers to tap the rural and semi-urban yellow pages market in India

Sabil Francis
NEW DELHI, September 15

The people closest to the work know the most about it.
That seems to be the idea behind, which has tied up with The Jagran Group, publishers of "Danik Jagran", one of India's leading Hindi dailies, to set up a comprehensive site of Indian businesses. In a bid to tap the vast semi-urban and rural market away from India's bustling cities, the company also plans to launch a vernacular version of all its city-specific sites within six months.
While IndiaHQ Solutions Inc, the parent company will provide the latest technology; the Jagran Group will try to convince the rustic small town merchant to list his skills on the site. On offer are chances to advertise online to create their own web sites.
At stake is the yellow pages market, estimated to be worth anything between Rs.150 and Rs 500 crore.
The market strategy is to tie up with existing local area networks, which know the terrain well, to penetrate the market. IndiaHQ Solutions will thus tie up with the Madhya Pradesh-based Orange City Publications, which publishes Yellow Pages directories for the city of Nagpur and the Khandhwa region. Says Ajay Sikka, chief executive, IndiaHQ Solutions Inc, "It represents a merger of the bricks and clicks business. We are not just providing e-mail or content. We are part of the community."
Sikka's wife, Anjali, came up with the idea, when pregnant, and with a lot of time to spare., a site that gives local information, such as the movie at the local cinema, was thus born and helped network nearly all the area's 200 Indian businesses. The initiative caught on, and gets close to 100,000 page views from a community of around 60,000 people, says Sikka. Similar sites are already up and running for Vancouver and Portland.
The idea is quite popular in the United States. For example, GeoCities emerged as a top-10 web site, with over 1.3 million "homesteaders" spread out over dozens of "virtual neighbourhoods." Civic Networks, of Washington, D.C., a non-profit organisation, created Web Markets ( as an easy way to surf virtual storefronts of rural and low-income marketers across the U.S. The section for the state of Ohio, for instance, features home pages for everything from Ohio-grown spices to travel tours and bed-and-breakfast establishments.
In India, however, the idea may not work so well. More than 50 per cent of the population is illiterate, and trying to convince the rural consumer to trust technology will be no easy task. But IndiaHQ Solutions brass is upbeat. Says Saurabh Gupta, country manager, IndiaHQ Solutions, Inc, "When the cities get wired up, then there will be a small town India. It is this market that we are targeting."
It is a growing market. International Data Corp (IDC), which keeps tabs on the market, estimates that the Internet commerce market in Asia outside of Japan will climb to $33 billion by 2003. India and China are expected to lead the market.
The key is in positioning and in the sheer size of the market. Even if only one in 10 of India's one billion people go online, the market is huge. Many people may be poor and illiterate, but the rural and semi-urban merchant class commands enormous economic power.
Established players have already tapped the idea. has a yellow pages site and sites like or provide city-specific information. The winner of the game will be the one that can provide the most specific information in the least possible time. Traditional formats like the list may have to be scrapped as competition mounts. Keep it simple. That's the idea.
However, agencyfaqs! sources at Tata Donnelly, the city's leading publishers of Yellow Pages, said that they have no immediate plans to launch vernacular versions of their publications, though they have already gone online.
One major difference between yellow pages offline and online is that the latter allows communities to be built up. did this for the Indian community in Seattle. plans to do the same in India. As Sikka says, "Our aim is to create communities."
That might be possible, but as the urban customer base of dotcom companies gets choosier, many more are going to get into the business of creating "communities" among India's vast rural populace. And the path may not be smooth then.

© 2000 agencyfaqs!