Indian social-media app Koo is witnessing a surge in popularity, fuelled by politicians and others flocking to it after US rival Twitter Inc refused to follow a government order to block certain content on its platform.
Twitter has locked horns with New Delhi this month over the order to remove more than 1,100 accounts and posts which the government says are spreading misinformation about farmer protests against new agricultural laws.
Indian officials last week demanded that Twitter block hundreds of users that have tweeted on demonstrations against proposed new agriculture laws, saying they were a “grave threat to public order”.
India slammed international celebrities on Wednesday for making comments in support of protesting farmers as inaccurate and irresponsible and said vested interest groups were trying to build opinion against the country.
US singer Rihanna, climate change activist Greta Thunberg and US lawyer and activist Meena Harris, the niece of Vice-President Kamala Harris, made comments on social media regarding the farmers protest.
“Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken,” the Indian foreign ministry said.
The Electronics and IT ministry tweeted a link to its profile on rival Indian social network platform Koo. Some local personalities including Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal have opened Koo accounts.
Koo said downloads had surged 10-fold in the past two days to over 3 million. Meanwhile, #kooapp was the top Twitter trend in India on Wednesday with nearly 21,000 posts, followed by #BanTwitter.
What is Koo?
Koo is a Twitter-like microblogging platform which allows users to post multimedia content, including audio clips. A text post is restricted to 400 characters and the service supports six Indian languages, including English.
Like Twitter, Koo’s logo is a bird, though yellow in colour. It allows users to use hashtags (#) or the “@” symbol for mentions. The app also allows users to ‘re-koo’, Koo’s version of a retweet and chat instead of a direct message.
How did it start?
Koo was founded by Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka, both MBA, or business management, graduates. The duo are also the founders of Vokal, an audio-video knowledge-sharing platform similar to Quora.
The app was launched in March 2020 and won a government award for driving tech innovation. It raised more than $4 million in funding last week from new and existing investors including venture capital firms Accel and 3one4 Capital.
Who is on Koo?
For years, Twitter has been a major public communication tool for the Indian government. But several ministries and high-profile figures, including Bollywood actors, have also gradually begun using Koo in recent months. The technology ministry and trade minister Piyush Goyal joined this month.
Koo is however still dwarfed by Twitter, which had 17.5 million users in India as of last month, its third-highest user base after the United States and Japan, according to German database firm Statista.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is yet to join Koo, spoke about the app last year in his monthly radio address. “It’s called Koo,” he said. “In this, we can place our opinion and interact in our mother tongue through text, video or audio.”
What its founders say?
The sudden increase in Koo’s popularity can be compared in some respects to the surge in the use of digital payments apps in India following a ban on high-value currency notes in late 2016, Koo’s co-founder Bidawatka said.
“You could say this is something similar, because a certain event happened and lot of people want to move here… There is a surge at an unexpected time and lots of people are talking about us.”
Radhakrishna posted a hiring alert for engineers on LinkedIn on Wednesday.