Redefining What Being Connected Means

  Good to be back home after what was a phenomenal last week at Silicon Valley. We went out to the TC3 Innovation Summit excited, a bit nervous, and not really sure what to expect. Fortunately, the response to YO! that we received from telcos and VCs alike was overwhelmingly positive. Above all, we were able to validate that there is indeed much value in what we are building. It took me a bit of time to come down from the excitement of last week and get back on track. Just a few weeks more and we will be shipping our first public release of YO!, and there’s still much to be done. Getting back on track also meant re-validating our product canvas that we had constructed several months ago with the feedback we received. In the canvas and under the unique value proposition section I had made a note – “YO! in one sentence: share and connect with others without the internet.” Yes, this is the fundamental foundation on which YO! is built. But what exactly do we mean by ‘connect’? For most of us who work on our plethora of screens and devices every day, it hard to envision using a device that is not connected to the wide entangled web of machines, servers and databases that is commonly known to us as the internet. However, for a large majority of the world’s population, the internet is still a distant dream and perhaps for many – an unknown entity. Internet.org wishes to bridge this gap with the aim of providing affordable internet access to the remaining 2/3rd of the world’s population who do not have internet today. Facebook is one of the founding companies behind Internet.org, and its Founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg was in New Delhi this past week to be a part of the 1st ever Internet.org summit. In his keynote address held on October 9th, Zuckerberg goes on to state that “Connectivity must be a fundamental right – just as 911 calls are available to everyone, so should basic internet services be available to all as well.” I admire and respect Zuckerberg and Internet.org for their mission – they are indeed looking at the bigger picture. Of course, they stand to benefit from this mission. The more people that are connected to the internet, obviously the more business opportunities there will be for companies like Facebook and Google. But putting that aside, there has to be a catalyst for any technological change and they are attempting to drive that change. But just as I was just appreciating this encouraging bit of news, I was struck by some other news that came out a few days ago, also from India: ‘Telecom Firms Hike Mobile Internet Rates by up to 100% in June-September.’ Well there’s some sharp contrast for you. On one side we have the dream – the initiative to provide affordable internet services to everyone. And on the other side we have the reality – mobile internet costs going up rather than going down, and by looking at the trend, it is unlikely that mobile internet will be affordable anytime soon. Zuckerberg was right when he mentioned that it’s not really the mobile device that is a barrier, but rather it is the connection from the device to the internet that is still expensive or unavailable to many. And telcos, faced with accumulating expenses in keeping their data networks afloat because of the increased usage in OTT services, have no other viable option but to transfer the increasing costs back to the consumer. After all, their business also needs to be profitable in order to be sustainable. With YO!, we want to redefine what ‘being connected’ is all about. And I’ll take the three cases described by Zuckerberg in his keynote to illustrate this, but from a different angle:
  1. An expectant mother is provided with educational videos on childbirth and how to care for her newborn child directly on to her mobile by her caregiver or doctor.
  2. An elderly man who previously had to walk a long distance to reach the library is now provided with e-books shared from his family directly.
  3. A student studying for an exam is given notes and other study documents from her classmates that can help her study better. She also has notes of her own which she shares with her peers directly.
And in all the above cases, access is simple, fast and above all, free. And, all without the internet. Yet these people are still all connected – their lives have been enhanced because of information they provided or received directly from relevant people. And we believe that by enabling the means of connecting and sharing directly with others, we can introduce a very powerful change. Our mission is not to substitute the internet. The internet is a very powerful medium, and like Internet.org, we too hope to see the day when internet can be affordable and available to all. But we do strongly believe that ‘being connected’ does not necessarily mean that one has to be connected to the internet in order to connect with others. To us, ‘being connected’ is about obtaining information, content, media or even having simple conversations with others – either directly or through the network when required. YO! will be the enabler to ‘connect’ people without the internet.