After relatively underutilized degrees in computer sciences engineering and an MBA followed by a decade of tangential career choices ranging from technology outsourcing to public relations, I realized my passion lay in connecting the dots between market opportunities, technology, entrepreneurs and the ecosystems that bind them together. A big fan of underdogs and of possibilities, I try my best to tell stories the way my brain sees them.
"India's iconic Chandni Chowk market...now online!" screamed the blog post from Google India on December 17th, 2012.
Inaugurated by Rajan Anandan, Google India MD and Kapil Sibal, the union minister for IT and Communications, the website was Google's first (and as far as I can tell, only) local market-specific aggregation under its larger "India Get Your Business Online" effort.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640"] Kapil Sibal and Rajan Anandan launching Chandnichowkonline.com (Image: Google India)[/caption]
But then, there aren't any other markets in India that also happen to the parliamentary constituency of its union IT and communications minister too.
Nonetheless, the iconic market is now...offline.
A great majority of the 2500 small and medium businesses and shops in Chandni Chowk that Google helped created, now lie dead. I clicked through roughly 50-60 websites under different categories like "Apparel & Clothing", "Footwear", "Home Appliances" and "Electronics & Accessories" but I couldn't find a single one that was working.
There are two possible explanations - either no one bothered to reach out to these businesses and remind them to pay the Rs.1300-Rs.1600 per year to renew their domains and hosting plans with Hostgator.in, Google's hosting partner.
Or, very few hard-nosed Chandni Chowk businesses men and shopkeepers saw value in spending even that trivial an amount on having their own websites.
I wrote to Hostgator, wanting to know what had happened. A representative, apparently part of the "India Get Your Business Online" team at Hostgator passed the buck to Google India, saying the program was their initiative (I'm surprised why Hostgator doesn't consider the potential revenue Rs.32-40 lakh in hosting fees as something worth pursuing themselves).
So on Tuesday I wrote to the person at Google referred to by Hostgator. I've yet to hear back from him.
I think Medianama nailed it the very day Google launched the initiative:
"The challenge with taking small businesses online and shops, is to ensure that businesses continue to renew their domain and hosting contracts even after the free period, and that’s when Google will start to reap the benefits of such mass initiatives.
Frankly, for google this is an attempt to bring more and more SMBs online, with the objective of eventually getting them to advertise on Adwords. Chandni Chowk online might be just PR, but it’s a bigger part of Google India’s sales focused approach under Rajan Anandan."