LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
There are still vast stretches of the developing world where friends aren't friended and tweets aren't tweeted, if only because people don't have access to computers. One company in India is trying to bring social media to people on the devices they do have, like cell phones. The company is called SMS GupShup. It's the Hindi word for chitchat.
NPR'S Corey Flintoff reports from New Delhi that it uses simple phone texting to allow people to form virtual communities.
COREY FLINTOFF: Most Indian cities are well-wired for the Internet. After all, they're the homes of the ubiquitous call centers. But that doesn't mean that most Indians have access to computers. What they do have are cell phones -millions of cheap, basic cell phones, the kind that can only call.
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FLINTOFF: And text.
(Soundbite of beeping)
FLINTOFF: And because texts cost about a penny a pop - far cheaper than calling - Indians text like teenagers in a high-school study hall.
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FLINTOFF: Vishy Ramachandran, one of the co-founders of GupShup, says that he and his partners were originally trying to create applications for fancier devices, such as smartphones, but found that the real challenge was to do something with phones that weren't so smart.
They created a service that allows individuals and companies to send free bulk text messages to people who request them - groups of friends, say, or sports fans, or commuters who want traffic updates. Ramachandran says the idea went viral.
Mr. VISHY RAMACHANDRAN (Co-Founder, SMS GupShup): And after a few weeks of starting GupShup, we realized that the product was growing at around one to two percent per day in terms of its usage. And that kind of gave us a feeling that we were on to something that was going to become huge.
FLINTOFF: Huge, he says, in that India alone has about 500 million mobile phone users, versus some 50 or 60 million people who use the Internet.
Pradeep Chopra is a social media analyst whose company, Digital Vidya, teaches marketers and other businesses how to use social media. He says the challenge for text-based companies like GupShup is to make their services more interactive, so that users aren't just receiving, but responding.
Mr. PRADEEP CHOPRA (Chief Executive, Digital Vidya): Social media is all about giving control to others. And the whole SMS GupShup or this world of SMS here is, I think, that the real value lies in creating collaboration.
FLINTOFF: Ramachandran says the company is introducing ways to let individuals do more talking to their groups. So far, he says, SMS GupShup has about 40 million members in India and other countries such as the Philippines, and it's growing at a rate of about a million a month.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New Delhi.
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