The biggest online migration ever is underway in India
The Internet is a microcosm of human civilization. It changes in all the ways that human civilization itself has changed: through a stepwise evolution of technology, the passing of generations, and shifts in value systems.
A less discussed way in which the Internet is constantly changing is through human migrations. As users abandon platforms and adopt new ones en masse, they irreversibly alter the role Internet plays in our lives. Digital migrations have been in motion from the beginning, ever since we discarded Yahoo Messenger and ICQ for gtalk. In 2009 MySpace started being perceived as a ‘Digital Ghetto’, making Facebook America’s social platform of choice.
These migrations were driven primarily by teens – like most large-scale Internet migrations before this and even the ones since. So, if an Internet migration of a similar magnitude is underway at this moment, India is bound to be its focal point, because today, India has over 100 million teenage Internet users, more than any other country in the world.
The excitement of independently exploring a new world, expressing themselves in an uninhibited manner and escaping the gaze of a largely conservative society enabled Yahoo Messenger, Orkut and then Facebook to become mainstream phenomena for the generation born in the ’80s and early ’90s. The families of today’s teens already have Facebook accounts, and so, to current teenagers, Facebook simply does not embody the excitement and freedom that the Internet has offered previous teenagers for the past two decades. Facebook is to them the equivalent of their living rooms – they spend time in it, but try to ensure they’re not breaking any societal norms through the photos they share, the views and opinions they express and the pop culture icons they align themselves with.
(Tinder experienced a backlash in India when it aired a TV commercial that depicted a mother supporting her daughter's use of the dating app, diminishing the excitement that came from it being sexily taboo.)
Indian teens are therefore on the cusp of an en masse exodus away from the platform that first introduced social media into their lives (most Indian teenagers today have been active on Facebook since they were around 10 or 12 years old).
Their new promised lands are: Instagram, where 90 per cent of Indian users are under 30; Snapchat, the fastest growing app in India, a market of 462 million Internet users; and Indian messaging app Hike, which has over 100 million users, 90 per cent of them under 30. Apart from being cutting-edge platforms that offer rich and exciting visual-led experiences, rather than text-led services like Facebook and Twitter, these platforms also offer an unspoken benefit – freedom from parental surveillance.
With parents following their children onto new apps, and children growing up and becoming parents themselves, young people will always seek out their own spaces online. The composition of the Internet is thus always in flux. By the time the current migration is complete, and before the next one is triggered, we will witness the rise of a whole new generation of Social media giants.
- Article by Ankit Kalkar