Mumbai: Amidst two important launches by Facebook - first Instagram's IGTV and then WhatsApp's Group Video and Audio Calling feature, Google also launched "Neighbourly" - its newly developed app to further cement its dominance over the social media and online space.
Google launched Neighbourly, the hyper-local social network, in India last week under its Next Billion Users program. The neighborhood network -- available in Mumbai and soon to expand to other cities –- lets people share local expertise and crucial information with others in the vicinity, according to Bloomberg.
The crowd-sourced recommendations range widely: kitchen cabinet makers, service stations that repair electric scooters, cricket ticket sellers, gardening supplies stores and much more. With almost a half billion Indians now using smartphones, Google sees an opportunity to become a one-stop shop for search, social networking and payments, Bloomberg said in a report.
“After missing the last wave of social, Google is trying to use its platform to become a significant player in these areas,” says New Delhi-based Forrester Research forecast analyst, Satish Meena.
Google has long aspired to be the go-to platform in India, where rivals Facebook Inc and its WhatsApp messaging service have already amassed a huge user base and Amazon Inc. is spending billions on e-commerce. Google wants to bring hundreds of millions of Indians online and build products that appeal to a diverse population, no matter the social strata, language spoken or type of device used.
In 2016, the company began offering free Wi-Fi in the country’s largest train stations and has since expanded to 400 locations. Last year the Mountain View, California-based search giant introduced a payment service called Google Tez. The voice-powered Google Assistant is already available in eight Indian languages.
In an era of fake news, trolling and privacy concerns, the Neighbourly app, two years in the making, could help Google take on Facebook and WhatsApp. Caesar Sengupta, who runs the Next Billion Users initiative, said at the app’s unveiling that it would help people get precise information without participating in group chats that “keep getting bigger and noisier,” such as WhatsApp’s tendency to fill up with “good morning” messages, the Bloomberg report said.
Neighbourly users can browse, ask and answer questions without sharing personal information. The app only shows a first names while keeping the phone number, full name and other information private. A user’s profile photo cannot be enlarged or stored, unlike in other apps. Upon signing up, everyone pledges to keep the community safe and refrain from posting inappropriate or spam messages.
Neighbourly created a wave on Internet immediately after its launch and Mumbai train commuters were the first to feel its power. A Mumbai train commuter who witnessed an accident, turned to his smartphone to ask neighbors how to help a bleeding victim. Responses poured in instantaneously. Take him to the station master at the next stop; ask the ticket collector for first aid; call 138 for emergency help and so on. Not long after, the commuter posted a happy ending: the injured party had received medical attention.
Some users compared Neighbourly favorably to the ancient Indian concept of Karma, whereby one’s actions determine a person’s fate, and Google executives were rightly thrilled.
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