Indian alternatives to WhatsApp, Twitter get going - They're Sandes & Koo

Indian government's alternative to WhatsApp
(Image credit: Indian government)

A few months back there was a talk of an Indian government-backed messaging application, on the lines of WhatsApp, to safeguard critical internal communication.

Apparently the application now seems ready and is being tested by the government in-house.

Named Sandes, which is Hindi for 'message', the app's use is currently restricted to government officials. The belief though is it will be available for the general public in the future.

The app was originally christened GIMS, an abbreviation for Government Instant Messaging System.

Officials sources also said Sandes should not be confused with existing applications with similar names, like Sandesh.

Further, the possible move to Sandes may not be one-off, as there is another concerted campaign to get Koo, a Made-in-India alternative to Twitter, off to a flying start. 

These developments make it clear that the Indian government ecosystem is uncomfortable with the use of foreign messaging platforms that are not ready to comply with its orders.

How to access Sandes?

The Sandes app's backend is handled by National Informatics Centre (NIC), which comes under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. NIC provides the infrastructure to support the delivery of government IT services and the delivery of some of Digital India's initiatives.

When users land in on the page, they can see the sign-in form. But any attempt to sign-in (in any of the three ways possible ---LDAP or Sandes OTP or Sandes Web), gets the response: “This authentication method is applicable for authorised government officials”. 

But government sources indicate Sandes app can be run on both iOS and Android platforms. It also supports voice and data messages, similar to other modern-day chatting apps.

Sandes arrives when WhatsApp users are migrating to other platforms, polarised as they are by the Facebook-owned app's new privacy policy, which will share more of their data to its parent company.

Koo, a desi alternative to Twitter

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Meanwhile, as Twitter and Indian government seem to be at loggerheads  over blocking of content and accounts related to farmers’ protest, Union Ministers and government departments are also setting up accounts on Koo, a Made-in-India alternative to Twitter.

Giving Koo a big backing, Union Minister Piyush Goyal announced on Twitter, “I am now on Koo. Connect with me on this Indian micro-blogging platform for real-time, exciting and exclusive updates. Let us exchange our thoughts and ideas on Koo.” Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad already has a verified handle on Koo.

Telecom, IT, India Post, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, and MyGovIndia, are also present on Koo.

Can Sandes and Koo really take off?

Mayank Bidwatka, Koo’s co-founder, said there has been a substantial spike in the number of Koo users. Bidwatka said Koo has over three million users and is active in seven languages.

Koo won the second prize in the social category after Chingari in Atmanirbhar app challenge in August. It started in Kannada and has since expanded to include other Indian languages like Tamil, Hindi, and Telugu.

It can be used to post views and videos and can also follow other users, like their posts, or comment on them. 

Koo recently raised $4.1 million from several investors.

As of now, the migration to Koo is mostly confined to government and right-wing supporters.

Previously too, they tried shifting to the 'Gab' platform, but nothing really came out of it.

So it remains to be seen whether Sandes and Koo really take off, or fall by the wayside after making initial loud noises.

Balakumar K
Senior Editor

Over three decades as a journalist covering current affairs, politics, sports and now technology. Former Editor of News Today, writer of humour columns across publications and a hardcore cricket and cinema enthusiast. He writes about technology trends and suggest movies and shows to watch on OTT platforms.