Pocket Social Networking in India – SMS GupShup Expands

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Memo #190

By Nimmi Rangaswamy  – nimmir [at] microsoft.com

The communication revolution has spread to small towns and even villages in India through a Twitter-like Small Message Service (SMS) social marketing networking alternative called GupShup. The low-cost text messaging service for phone, web, or mobile communication facilitates “pocket social networking” for people without smart phones. It is estimated to currently process two billion messages per month in India, compared to 480 million a year ago.

Overwhelmingly, GupShup users are young and male, mainly from low income families (GupShup charges less than one rupee per message, less than two cents Canadian).  The young men use the GupShup platform as the predominant channel to network with a large group of contacts .There are two types of GupShup users. First, there are active broadcasters posting regular content to expanding groups that reach hundreds of thousands. Second, there are passive and invisible consumers. Of the estimated 40 million GupShup users around three million have registered group accounts while the rest, around 37 million (as of 2011) do not have accounts but receive and consume posts via SMS on their mobile phones. Group users aggressively promote their own group and use SMS messages to even send covert advertisements for products and services that GupShup explicitly bans. Because most posts are geared towards expanding a group, there is little conversational dialogue between groups and their audiences.

Indians are currently enthusiastically joining GupShup. The affordability of the platform allows users to transcend geography and connect with people all over India. Its architecture of posting and the dominance of SMS as an interaction medium also helps to expand rich social interaction. There are still a few problems with GupShup, one of which is the growth of back-channel providers (a large group on GupShup can be sold for several thousands of rupees). There is also the problem of ensuring security of messages in such a vast and rapidly expanding network. But as cheap pre-pay Internet moves beyond urban areas and the upper classes, more affordable pocket social media like GupShup have immense potential for effecting social change and gaining economic profits for providers and users.

Dr. Nimmi Rangaswamy is a researcher with Microsoft Research Labs India, Bangalore.

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Home Page of SMSGupShup in 2011 (Source: gupshup.me)

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