The Lok Sabha elections are not just about electing a new government at the centre, they are also turning into a money-making and brand-building platform for some technology startups in India. In the run-up to the elections, a host of start-ups who are using the general elections to make their presence felt in a crowded marketplace have emerged.
Since the aim is to reach out to more and more young people, as well as out-do each other in the political sphere, parties are ready to pay big bucks to these tech start-ups, many of which are creating innovative apps and platforms to help politicians woo voters.
In what is possibly for the first time in India, almost all parties are using social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to get closer to their voters. Indeed, some parties are going all the way in terms of leveraging the power of technology and are even partnering with several start-ups to connect with millions of people.
One of the most talked about tie-ups that we have seen in this election is the one between India's top political party the Bharatiya Janata Party and speech recognition start-up Voxta. The BJP seriously wants their PM candidate Narendra Modi to be heard by more number of people and in a bid to achieve that, have partnered with Voxta.
Voxta, which has been dubbed the "political Siri", has developed a speech recognition platform in Hindi, English and Indian languages, with a unique dialogue manager. This allows people to speak naturally and receive or give information in chunks, which is recognised using Voxta technology.
The start-up has just launched a speech-recognition powered, interactive, national phone line (022-4501-4501) for the BJP. Dubbed a 'political Siri', it allows voters to choose the issue that matters to them, say the name of the issue, and hear Modi talking about the BJP's policy on specific issues.
Elaborating on this technology, co-founder Kavita Reddi, said, "Siri has been used to search for restaurants, or florists in the US and UK. Voxta speech recognition allows voters to search for party policy on a range of issues. This is significant, because it allows the majority of voters who are not online, but also want to hear more about policy, to speak and search for information.
"This is quite pioneering, especially in a country like India, where almost a billion people do not have access to the internet, or social media.
"Most parties are using social media for this election to reach the 20 percent of voters who use the internet. Our initiative is effectively, a form of social media for the masses, who only have ordinary mobile phones. They do not need to be online, or have a smart phone, or even need to be literate to use this service."
The service is expected to receive over three million calls within a month. Voxta's revenue model is based on a per line model, or per call /per usage consumption model, depending on client requirements.
"This election has allowed us to apply our technology in an unique and innovative way," Reddi added.
Other applications (non-political) from Voxta are also in the works. "We have already developed a phone-based spoken English test, and a virtual customer service agent, and several customer engagement applications," she said.
"Our platform allows interaction with large numbers of people in several ways. Other applications include data mining of voice calls as a marketing tool to allow people to interact with brands and provide feedback, as well as receive information in the form of voice FAQs."
Other start-ups cashing in on elections
Other than Voxta, some data analytics start-ups are also trying to gain an edge over their peers during this election season. Bangalore-based big data startup Frrole is getting paid for the insights it offers to news channels, as well as the political parties based on the data it accumulates from Twitter posts.
If thisTech Crunch report is anything to go by, then insights from Frrole cost about $100 per month per data stream. The company analyses over 10 million tweets daily and has sifted through over 100 million tweets since January this year, the report said.
Similarly, a joint initiative of Bangalore's tech firms SM Netserv Technologies and Springboard Public Relations helps candidates effectively plan campaigns by providing booth-level analysis. Simplify360, a Bangalore-based social media analytics start-up, also claims this election gave them a good dose of publicity, reach, and revenue opportunity. Another tech start-up, Political Quotient works with candidates, once elected, to strengthen the connect between representatives and constituencies.
Will social media influence vote swing?
Despite all the technical gadgetry being used this time around during the elections, it would be unwise to predict the winner based on social media analytics. US-based Pew Research Center claims about 16 percent of Indians actually use the internet, out of which just 51 percent use social networking sites; about 35 percent of social media users discuss politics.
In fact, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) recently reported that political parties are spending 2-5 percent of their budget on boosting their online presence. TOI quoted the IAMAI report as saying, "Based on the number of eligible voters, the data of actual voter turnout from the Election Commission of India and field interviews, the report estimates that there could be a vote swing of 3-4 percent in 24 states -- states where internet users are sizeable. The vote swingers can be predominantly young men and non-working women whose affiliation towards social media is high."
Arnab K Laha, professor, production and quantitative methods, IIM Ahmedabad, who was speaking on the sidelines of an event in Mumbai, said, "Internet penetration in our country is very poor, and a large portion of the country doesn't even have electricity. To go by trends projected from social media analytics, we require some amount of really interesting mechanism at a place. India is moving forward, but it will take few more years when we can leverage social media for political decisions."
Still, that doesn't seem to be a big hinderance for tech start-ups. Maybe it's a small and niche trend, but it's a trend nevertheless.
One thing is for certain, there's no shortage of innovative platforms and apps centred around the elections. Business is good.