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Updated: January 30, 2014 20:10 IST

Another one in the mix

Zeenab Aneez
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Gary Kirsten. Photo: Nagara Gopal
The Hindu
Gary Kirsten. Photo: Nagara Gopal

Instant messaging application, Mxit is set to take the transformative power of information across India

What do cricketing legend Gary Kirsten and instant messaging application Mxit have in common? In the words of Kirsten, they are “both South African creations making their way into India”. The former coach of the Indian cricket team was happy to chat with us when he was in the city for the launch of the South African Mxit. Ask him about the team’s current performance and Kirsten is quick to point out that they won a big, international trophy less than a year ago: “I haven’t been involved with the team for a while so it is difficult to say. They’ve got some great young players coming through but as it is with young players you’re always going to have a bit of an inconsistent performance. They have been the number one team in the world and I think in every team you have ups and downs.”

Speaking of young and emerging talent, Kirsten is also coaching the Delhi Daredevils; an opportunity he jokes was as good an excuse as any to come to India. As the ambassador for Mxit’s Indian launch, Kirsten is looking forward to being more than just the face of the brand. “I see this link up with Mxit as an opportunity for me to reach out to the people of India in some way. At the moment, we are designing things and looking for opportunities and As Since cricket is liked here, I’m excited by the possibility of finding a way where, through pieces of information, I can reach out to a kid in the deepest part of India who doesn't have access to coaching.”

Providing remote cricket coaching to a child in rural India may seem ambitious but Mxit’s track record in South Africa shows that the application is built to work for a country in India. What sets it apart is that the application is compatible with feature phones and can be used in over 8000 different handsets and tablets with a basic internet connection. In a market where majority of the population still uses feature phones, this feature will prove a platform for more than just communicating with friends and family. Given the diversity of their potential users, the team is also working on offering ten Indian languages, informs Sam Rufus Nallaraj, CEO of Mxit India. “

Mxit is now available for free on Java, Nokia, iOS, Android, Blackberry and Window phone operating systems, can be downloaded via SMS and offers much more than chat. Fully aware of the challenges of taking on a segment of the market previously unexposed to the internet, Chairman Roger Grobler says the key is in making the application intuitive. “ If you want to look up something, you log onto Google, you search and click on a few links – it’s easy. But for someone who has never used the internet its not all that easy so Mxit is very human. It helps people interact easily with information that can transform their lives,” he explains.

He does not say this lightly, Mxit has tie-ups with over 200 NGO’s in South Africa, including UNICEF. “One of the services we have is ‘Babyinfo’ where a pregnant woman can put her due date into the phone and get information that is relevant at that stage of the pregnancy on a daily basis. Many women use this is the absence of any other information.” The tie up with UNICEF includes a virtual school which where children have access to class schedules, textbooks and quizzes which removes the risk of textbooks not arriving or the absence of teachers.

Although it is too early to tell, such a tool will only enhance the efforts of organisations like ‘internet.org’ who envision a future where third world countries have free of cheap access to the internet. While Kristen by virtue of his sportsmanship is already something of a legend in India, Mxit is entering India as the underdog of instant messaging; whether it can recreate the transformative effect it has had Africa in India remains to be seen.

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