Koo: India’s X-alternative to service shutdowns

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Koo had hoped to become an alternative to X in India

  • Author, Zoja Mateen
  • Role, BBC News, Delhi

Millions of social media users in India are in lockdown after local microblogging platform Koo, which billed itself as an alternative to X, announced it would shut down its services.

According to the platform’s founders, a lack of funding and the high cost of technology were the reasons for the decision.

Koo was launched in 2020, offering messaging in over 10 Indian languages.

It gained prominence in 2021 after several ministers supported it during a dispute between the Indian government and X, then called Twitter.

The row began after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government asked the US platform to block a list of accounts it said were spreading fake news. The list included journalists, news organizations and opposition politicians.

X initially complied with the demands but subsequently reinstated the accounts, arguing that there was “insufficient justification”.

The standoff continued when the government threatened legal action against the company’s employees in India.

Amid the row, a flood of supporters, ministers and officials from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) migrated to Koo overnight, many of them sharing hashtags calling for a ban on X in India.

By the end of 2021, the app had already been downloaded 20 million times in the country.

However, in recent years the platform has struggled to raise funding.

Founders Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka said on Wednesday that Koo was “just a few months away” from taking X to India in 2022, but a “prolonged winter of fundraising” forced them to temper their ambitions.

“We explored partnerships with several larger internet companies, conglomerates and media houses, but these conversations did not yield the results we wanted,” they wrote on LinkedIn.

“Most of them didn’t want to deal with user-generated content and the wild nature of a social media company. A few of them changed their priorities almost right before signing.”

In February, Indian news websites reported that Koo was in talks to be acquired by news aggregator Dailyhunt. But the talks were not successful.

The founders said they would have liked to keep the app alive, but the cost of technology services was high and they therefore “had to make this difficult decision.”

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