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What is Koo, Who Made it? Top Ten Questions You Had about Twitter's New Desi Doppelganger

Koo is an Indian version of the microblogging app Twitter | Image credit: Reuters

Koo is an Indian version of the microblogging app Twitter | Image credit: Reuters

What is Koo and why is the Indian government joining it? And what does it have to do with Twitter?

On Tuesday, Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal shared an invite with his followers on Twitter to join a new microblogging social media site called Koo. Soon after that, several ministers and ministries, as well as the others, shared invites to join Koo.

Soon after, several verified government handles on Twitter such as MeitY and MyGov among others got verified handles on Twitter.

But what is Koo and why is the government promoting it? Here are the top ten questions you might have about the new homegrown microblogging site in town and what it has to do with the Indian government’s silent tussle with Twitter.

[q]What is Koo?[/q]

[ans]Koo is a microblogging social media app that was launched 10 months ago in March 2020 by a Bengaluru based start-up. It is currently being pitched as India’s homegrown alternative to Twitter. The app won the Aatmanirbhar App Challenge organised by the Indian government last year in August to encourage homegrown innovation. While it offers as many features as Twitter, Koo also allows users to post content in Indian languages other than Hindi.[/ans]

[q]Who made Koo?[/q]

[ans]Koo was co-founded by Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidwatka in 2020. It is owned by the parent company Bombinate Technologies Pvt Ltd which also operated Vokal, the desi version of the QnA app Quora. Radhakrishna, an Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, graduate, is also the CEO. The company has several investors including former Infosys CFO TV Mohandas Pai’s 3one4 Capital which joined the list of investors earlier this month, Indian Express reported. [/ans]

[q]Who are Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidwatka?[/q]

[ans]Entrepreneur Aprameya Radhakrishna is the CEO of Bombinate technologies a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Before Koo, he co-founded TaxiForSure, an online cab booking service that was eventually sold off to Ola in 2015. In 2017, he co-founded Vokal with the Indian version of Quora, with Mayank Bidwatka, who holds a degree from the Asian Institute of Management. Bidwatka is also the co-founder of Goodbox and is an investor in several start-ups like Yolo bus, Loca Ridea and Third Wave Coffee Roasters among others.[/ans]

[q]Is Koo on Google Play Store?[/q]

[ans]Koo can be downloaded from the Google Play Store where it is described as “a personal updates and opinion-sharing micro-blogging platform”. The app is aimed to “empower people to express their thoughts in Indian languages with a strong knit local Indian community”. It currently has a 4.7-star rating on Play Store.[/ans]

[q]Who all are currently on Koo?[/q]

[ans]Koo currently has 2.5 million downloads on the Play Store. Apart from Union Minister Piyush Goyal, many others such as IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, MPs Tejasvi Surya, Shobha Karandlaje and government think tank NITI Ayog are already on Koo. A bunch of government handles including MeitY, MyGov, Digital India, India Post, National Informatics Centre (NIC), National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NIELIT), Common Services Centre, UMANG app, Digi Locker, National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) among others are also on Koo. Cricketers like Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble as well as spiritual leader Sadhguru are on Koo.[/ans]

[q]Why is the Indian government shifting to Koo?[/q]

[ans]The move to Koo, a homegrown version of Twitter, is in line with the Narendra Modi government’s push for “Atma Nirbhar Bharat”. Koo was one of the winners of the Atma Nirbhar Innovation Challenge introduced by the government last year, soon after it banned a series of Chinese apps like TikTok. Along with the microblogging app, others like Zoho and Chingari – the Indian version of Twitter – were also winners across categories. Following its win, Koo even earned a mention during an episode of Mann Ki Baat when Prime Minister Modi himself spoke in favour of the homemade app and encouraged Indians to use it.[/ans]

[q]What has it got to do with Twitter?[/q]

[ans]The sudden shift to Koo coincides with the Indian government’s ongoing tussle with the Jack Dorsey-owned American microblogging app Twitter. The company is currently engaged in a tough face-off with the Centre over the issue of free speech after it asked the platform to block the accounts of users posting “inflammatory” content. [/ans]

[q]What is India’s fight with Twitter?[/q]

[ans]In a strongly-worded notice to Twitter, MeitY last week said it had on January 31 asked the micro-blogging site to block 257 URLs (web addresses) and one hashtag under the relevant provision of the law as they were “spreading misinformation about (farmer) protests and has the potential to lead to imminent violence affecting public order situation in the country.” Twitter chose to sit over the request for one full day before blocking them, only to unblock them a few hours later. This was not taken kindly by the government and a fresh order/notice has been issued to Twitter for compliance, failing which penal action under sections that provide for fine and jail up to 7 years can be initiated. According to Twitter, it held meetings with government officials and conveyed that the accounts and posts in question constitute free speech and are newsworthy.[/ans]

[q]What is Koo’s advantage over Twitter?[/q]

[ans]While Koo is almost identical to Twitter in layout and even offers certain features that Twitter does not, one of the biggest advantages of Koo in India is that it allows users to post content in Hindi and other regional languages which might make it popular with Indian users.[/ans]

[q]Is this the first rival for Twitter in India?[/q]

[ans]Indian users angry with Twitter’s free speech or rampant blocking laws have for a while been looking for other alternatives to Twitter. Last year, many reported a shift to Mastodon, yet another microblogging site called Mastodon. Created in 2016 by a German coder, Mastodon is an open-source social networking service. Yet another alternative that floated up last year was Tooter, yet another Indian version of Twitter (as the name suggests) that was floated as a ‘Swadeshi’ alternative to Twitter. While the platforms saw an overnight increase of users last year, none has so far managed to sustain use or interest in comparison to the popularity of Twitter, both in India and across the world.[/ans]

(This story was originally published on Feb 10, 2021)

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