Twitter is witnessing a wild ride after Tesla CEO Elon Musk took it over for a hefty $44 billion deal. The sudden high attrition rate, an upended verification system, and reinstatement of controversial users like former President Donald Trump and Kanye West have raised questions about the company’s changed work ethics, business model and future policies. The departing employees have warned that a breakdown is likely on the infrastructural front, leading to frequent service outages, glitches and safety risks.
Among the alternatives that Twitteratis flying the coop look for, the microblogging platform Koo has gained huge traction, apart from sites like Mastodon and Tumblr. Developed in India, the platform has become a hit not only among Indians but also in Brazil, where it was launched recently. But where does the yellow bird stand in front of the humongous blue?
What is Koo?
Founded by Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka in March 2020, Koo is a multilingual microblogging platform, currently functional in over 100 countries and available in 11 languages. It claims to have over 50 million downloads and host over 7,500 eminent personalities across the world. Koo was initially launched in Kannada and later added English and other Indian languages – Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Assamese and Punjabi.
Koo’s interface, which is yellow and white, is similar to that of Twitter. It, too, enables users to categorise their posts with hashtags and tag other users in mentions or replies. In May 2021, Koo introduced a new feature ‘Talk to Type’ that allows its users to create a post with the app’s voice assistant. Koo marks verified accounts with a yellow-coloured check mark.
The platform recently announced four new features for the app, giving users more control over their posts. With this update, users will be able to save a Koo (which is the post), schedule Koos, and also save drafts – similar to Twitter. Koo will now also allow users to upload up to 10 profile pictures as well.
A multilingual platform and transparent verification process are a few standouts that the network boasts of.
How did Koo chart its growth?
The Tiger-backed platform took little time to grow as it was actively promoted by the Indian government as part of its ‘Make-in-India’ initiative. Koo emerged as the winner in the ‘social networking’ category in the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge’ that was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2020 to create cutting-edge Indian apps.
Since then, the Information Technology Ministry has used Koo to broadcast its differences from Twitter, which has fuelled the platform’s growth. With the Indian government frequently getting into hot water with Twitter over the latter’s free speech policies, several ministers, bureaucrats, and actors switched to Koo.
Union minister Piyush Goyal, with over 9.5 million followers on Twitter, was one of the first imminent personalities to sign up with Koo. Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, author Amish Tripathi, Shri Sadhguru, cricketers Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath, former Karnataka deputy chief minister Dr Ashwath Narayan, MP Tejasvi Surya and Ashutosh Rana were other popular persons to hop onto the Koo bandwagon early on.
How did Koo become a hit among Brazilians?
Twitter-rival Koo, which has been working to expand its user base across the world, logged over 1 million downloads within 48 hours of launch in Brazil with the portuguese language on November 18.
In a statement, Koo said: “India’s multilingual microblogging platform, Koo App, was launched in Brazil with the addition of the Portuguese language, making it available in 11 native languages now”.
Owing to the “tremendous response” from Brazil users with over 1 million user downloads, the company said it had managed to occupy the top spot on both Android Play Store and Apple App Store for the last few days.
The platform currently features popular Brazilian celebrities such as actor Babu Santana, singer Claudia Leitte, and author Rosana Hermann.
However, many believe that the large number of registrations on Koo could be due to users’ inclination to participate in a joke. Koo sounds like a word in Portuguese that means butthole. Koo, too, acknowledged the joke, and explained that it just means the “sound of this cute yellow bird.”
To our friends in Brazil!
Koo is the sound of this cute yellow bird. Not what you think 😂🤭🤫
— Koo Brazil (@KooForBrasil) November 18, 2022
Koo even opened a poll to find out if Brazilian users wanted the app’s name in Brazil to be changed the users preferred going forward with the same name with more than 70% voting for it.
Shaky launch in Brazil
Within hours of rollout, Koo users in Brazil started complaining of issues such as trouble accessing the site and viewing followers.
The Bengaluru-headquartered company also faced moderation and security problems in the country. Hackers took control of popular influencer Felipe Neto’s Koo account and posted that they were warning users of the social network’s poor security. Later, in a separate thread, Neto said that Koo’s founder got in touch with him and resolved the account takeover issue within minutes. Neto is currently one of the most popular Brazilian accounts on the platform with more than 500,000 followers.
Several Koo users tweeted that the platform was used by some to share Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), which is a crime under Bazilian laws and offenders can face penalties. Koo responded by saying that it was actively working to prevent such activity on its platform.
What are the hurdles Koo faces in India?
Although Koo has emerged as the most successful homegrown social network so far, the platform has been equated with many right-wing social networks like China’s Weibo, which has a close association with the Chinese government and its supporters, and Parler, a US-based social media application that became popular among supporters of former US President Donald Trump, as well as conspiracy theory groups such as QAnon.
Its founder Radhakrishna has, however, maintained that the platform has an apolitical stance.
How is Koo planning its future growth trajectory?
The social network company is actively collaborating with the Indian government on several projects. On May 27, 2022, the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises and Export Promotion Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Koo App, to promote its ‘One District, One Product’ initiative. In July, the company tapped into Hyderabad’s robust technology ecosystem by signing an MoU with the Telangana Government to open a Development Center in Hyderabad.
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Aimed at enrolling more world leaders as well as their followers, the company is now planning to expand its market in the US.