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Interactive Session Technology
The Global Internet Goes Multimedia
Megh Singh is a porter in India’s New Delhi railroad station, earning less than $8 per day. From
time to time throughout the day he can be found under the station stairwell whispering into his
smartphone. Singh is using speech recognition software to access the Internet using the station’s
free Wi-Fi system. His smartphone is a no-frills Sony Corp. model with pared-down storage (4
gigabytes, compared to 32 gigabytes, which is prevalent in developed countries). Singh’s
smartphone has Google search Facebook’s What’s App but Singh also uses apps, such as JC
Browser, MX Player, and SHAREit, that have been explicitly designed for slow connections and
minimal data storage.
Most Indian porters still believe smartphones are only for the rich and literate, but a growing
minority have been using cheap smartphones to go online since the railroad station started
providing free Wi-Fi service in 2015. Singh likes to use his smartphone to check train schedules,
message his family, and download movies. He arrives at the station early each morning to send
his family and friends recorded messages via WhatsApp. He receives recorded replies from them
throughout the day. Singh also uses YouTube, Google, and MX Player to search the Internet for
shows and clips. He uses voice search on YouTube, downloading 20 clips per day to watch at
night when he returns to the room he shares with five other porters.
Singh is not comfortable reading or using a keyboard. He doesn’t know anything about email or
how to send it. However, he claims he can enjoy the Internet to its fullest by relying on video and
voice. Singh represents the new wave of new Internet users around the world. Instead of typing
searches and emails, the “next billion” Internet newcomers will be primarily using voice
activation and communicating with images.
Text is not disappearing entirely from the Internet, and it still has its uses. But instead of typing
searches and reading text-based web pages, Internet users will be increasingly using audio and
video. Influential communicators will rely more and more on podcasts, Instagram, YouTube
videos, and apps such as HHQ Trivia. This is true in wealthy advanced countries such as the
United States and Germany as well as in poorer countries with low per capita income and
During the early years of the Internet, text used to be the only format with which computers
could easily work. Today, with more powerful and sophisticated hardware and software,
computers can decipher and manipulate multimedia. For many people, including those who
cannot read and write, it has become much easier to communicate through images and sounds
than through text.
Only 400 million of India’s 1.3 billion people are online, and the vast majority access the
Internet via a mobile device. Thanks to a price war and vendors’ efforts to court low-income
users, these numbers are rising. Vodafone India, a subsidiary of Vodafone PLC, found that new
users didn’t understand data limits. It decided to offer a new option to buy as much data as they
wanted at a cost of less than 25 cents per hour. Facebook has sponsored free Wi-Fi hotspots
across India, where it has 200 million active users. Developers at the company’s Menlo Park,
California headquarters stage “2G Tuesdays” when they can experience how Facebook works on
slow Internet connections. Facebook has built a lighter, less data-consuming version for
emerging markets as has LinkedIn. LinkedIn Lite is a less data-heavy app that works on 2G
phones and will help blue-collar workers find jobs.
New companies are springing up to provide apps and services tailored to less-affluent, lesseducated Internet users. The apps on Mr. Singh’s phone are a good example. UC Browser from
Alibaba Holding Group’s UCWeb is optimized to use less data for low-speed connections. UC
Browser accounts for over 40 percent of India’s mobile browser market. Lenovo Group’s
SHAREit enables users to send files, photos, videos, and apps from one device to another using
direct Wi-Fi connections. YouTube apps created for India make it easier to work with slow
Internet speeds, save videos to watch offline, and monitor their data use.
Google changed the way certain searches from India appear on the Internet. For example, if a
user is searching for a local cricket star, the top of the search will display videos and photos
instead of long text lists of links.
In 2016 Indian banks launched a mobile payment system to help people who were not very techliterate use their phones to make payments and transfer money. The sign-up process was
simplified. Paytm is the largest mobile money app in India, with over 200 million users, far more
than the number of Indians owning credit cards.
Sources: Farhad Manjoo, “Welcome to the Post-Text Future,” New York Times, February 14, 2018; www-shareit.com, accessed
February 16, 2018; Eric Ballman, “The End of Typing: The Next Billion Mobile Users Will Rely on Voice and Video,” Wall Street
Journal, August 7, 2017; and Julia Love, “YouTube Unveils India Mobile App for Spotty Internet Signals,” Reuters, April 4, 2017.
Case Study Questions
1. Why are voice and video becoming the primary means of communication over the
2. How will this trend impact companies trying to do business worldwide? How will it
affect the way they run their businesses and interact with customers?
3. What kinds of companies are likely to benefit from a more multimedia Internet?
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