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Can Koo the Indian upstart rattle Twitter?

Gaining popularity: Koo is slow emerging as an alternative to Twitter Pic: India Narrative

The clash between the Government and Twitter shows no sign of abating with Union Information Technology Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad warning the social media icon to fall in line with Indian laws.

But curiously, amid the feud between the Indian state and Silicon valley behemoth, an entirely unknown microblogging site is making heads turn.  Koo, a made-in-India Twitter alternative has already become a darling of several government agencies, including the Ministry of Information Technology and Prasar Bharti. Several Ministers and leaders, including Prasad, Piyush Goyal, B.S. Yediyurappa, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and H.D. Deve Gowda have joined the Koo bandwagon.

So far Koo has crossed 3 million downloads.

Appearing to be an appropriate alternative to Twitter, the Koo app is targeting users who also speak Indian languages. The app allows users to juggle between different languages, leveraging India’s mind-boggling linguistic diversity.

Koo’s CEO Aprameya Radhakrishna, affirms that his pioneering initiatives meant to pool in the voice of a billion Indians and make them heard loud and clear in cyberspace. Encompassing the attributes of Twitter, Koo users can post their opinions publicly. They can share content in several ways —offer 400-character updates or share an audio clip or photos and videos. So a ‘tweet’ becomes ‘koo’ and a ‘retweet’ becomes a ‘rekoo’. Koo users can follow people and use hashtags. These “Koos” are seen by the people they follow, just like Twitter.

Before the Twitter controversy, Koo never aimed to be its alternative. Koo was launched nearly 10 months ago simply as an app to enable users express themselves in Indian languages. In fact, it didn’t even have an English section until recently. The app won the Aatmanirbhar app challenge, along with the Chingari app which is an Indian version of Tiktok.

The app has been created by Bengaluru-based Bombinate Technology Pvt Ltd and founded by Radhakrishna. An MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, he has an engineering degree from National Institute of Technology Karnataka. Way back in 2015, Radhakrishna made his mark when he sold Taxi For Sure to Ola for $200 million. Today Koo’s parent company has raised $6.5 million from Blume Ventures, Kalaari Capital, Accel Partners India and former Infosys CFO Mohandas Pai.

Along with its recent prominence, Koo has also attracted some controversies. Concern was raised about its association with Shunwei, the global venture capital firm with China links. The ongoing India-China border row only sharpened the attack.  According to the CEO, the VC has “committed to exiting the company”. He adds that this exit will be finalised in "about a month". "Due to the increased restrictions on Chinese investors in India, the exit procedure was working through the required checks and clarifications before being completed," he explained.

Keeping in mind the present stand-off between the Government and Twitter about the accounts, Radhakrishna assures that “Our verification focusses on authenticity rather than fame and hence we are able to verify accounts more transparently compared to our counterparts. We also intend to make this a more platformised approach and enable broad guidelines to be consumable by all."

Faced with the grave accusation of breach of security concerning data, the CEO says that the claim is “fairly exaggerated”. He affirms that “95 per cent of Koo users login through their mobile phone number. Language communities of India do not use email to login and hence was not the priority of the company. Email login was introduced recently. Now that concerns have been raised, it has already been blocked from view. The data that was leaked was publicly accessible already. It'd be unfair to term it as a breach. There were some issues with session token management which claimed to provide access to some accounts. This has already been fixed and the tokens invalidated."

On the issue of political patronage to Koo, which assumes significance due to the Govt-Twitter tussle, Radhakrishna asserts that “any statements alleging political connections or organised political involvement are factually incorrect.” “We are driving a platform for every Indian and like every citizen and Indian company, we are bound by Indian Law and the Constitution of India. Like the principle of our Constitution, we also believe in making it a 'of the people, by the people and for the people' platform.”

Radhakrishna, fondly called Appu, loves singing romantic songs and is the quintessential dreamer who doesn’t fear to experiment. Well, with Koos, he is singing away to glory and proves that dreaming is not silly!

(With inputs from IANS)