Women In Tech

How consumers, content creators, social media trends and tech enterprises adapted to the COVID-19

Words: Devika Chitnis

The great pandemic has proven that there are some things in life, we cannot pre-plan. VCs, Big 4 Tech companies, governments, economies are using the ‘pivot and persist’ method to stay afloat during the crisis. Technology is our rescue boat in this storm and tech start-ups and companies have used this opportunity in crisis, to relook at things. If I may say so – to think differently. 

Consumers and Social Media trends
The first phase of tech and Covid-19 connection was where we saw a surge in Google queries around what this pandemic was, the 20-second hand wash method, does corona spread through internal sewage (yes, that was a thing) and of course, how to make the Dalgona coffee and sourdough bread. YouTube says that globally the engagement was up because people around the world wanted to connect. They wanted to learn, do some exercise, and the creators were building informative, helpful and fun content. 

Average daily uploads of videos with ‘at home’ titles increased over 590% globally on YouTube. Many content creators we spoke to said they saw an unprecedented organic growth in Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn. Content was begging to be made and webinars were being held left, right and centre. In fact, content creators like Superwoman, MostlySane, BeerBiceps were making content around the lockdown and Zoom calls as well. TikTok saw a lot of organic attention from the users and negative reactions from the critics for their unbridled curation of videos.

Gaming was another area that did well with video walkthroughs with a 23% increase. On the OTT front, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video saw a big increase in their viewership too with their original series. A lot of new players, including e-commerce giants, got into video production. Most of them concentrated on reality TV and infotainment categories. Instagram launched a product called ‘Reels’ in India - something like TikTok but a product we are still trying to understand. Twitter launched a product called Fleets (something like Instagram stories) that left users slightly confused about whether to tweet or fleet.

Food and fitness did well on Facebook as well. One had content from public figures that were working out there. While these were the positives, there was a massive wave of fake videos. According to Syed Nazakat, DataLeads – a Google funded startup that fights fake news said we saw a lot of fake content on coronavirus from China into India. Plandemic was a 26-minute conspiracy theory video, first posted on several social media and made by a California-based production house, Elevate. It drew millions of views before Facebook and YouTube declared it as a violation.


Tech Start-ups – Healthcare, Education & Payments
At a certain point, everyone was concentrating on delivering sanitisers and PPE kits online. In fact, luxury brands Ralph Lauren, Lacoste and Tiffany & Co. were using their manufacturing units to make sanitisers and sell them online. 

Neeraj Jhanji runs a mobile application company in Singapore, called Tinker and he is the one who sold patents of status updates, newsfeed to FB. “Technology adoption has been fast-forwarded 5-10 years because of coronavirus.” Tinker has also built two apps - Cof Cof and Elo app - to help users navigate through this health crisis. Cof Cof app listens to a patient’s cough and tries to classify it as a COVID-19 cough using AI. The system uses a machine-learning algorithm that has been fed a large dataset of COVID-19 coughs. “Obviously this is just a method of triage, not a medical opinion,” adds Neeraj. “Needs to be developed further in partnership with the Ministry of Health.” 

Elo app is helpful for discovering profiles of people nearby. The discovery does not require GPS location, but uses Bluetooth signals instead and preserves user’s privacy. “During Covid-19, this technology was quite useful for contact tracing,” said Neeraj.

In fact, two of the big tech giants - Apple and Google came together and used similar technology in all phones that enables contact tracing while preserving user privacy. This is called “exposure notifications.” Covid-19 has made us see unlikely collaborations. 

Telemedicine, teleconsulting were other strong pivots in most health companies. However, it seems that patients are comfortable teleconsulting when it comes to mild ailments. For more serious consultations, patients want to wait it out till the storm calms down. “Teleconsulting with your doctor might return to a face-to-face interaction especially in metro cities once things stabilise after COVID,” said Sidharth, COO at Medfin, an online platform for surgeries. “But this gives an opportunity for companies to build the technology and deploy them in Tier 3 and villages where people face the acute problem of doctors not being available." 

Insurance companies, insurance aggregators were going digital to sell products to the second- largest smartphone population in the world (India) with 600 million monthly active customers. Post COVID-19, the businesses picked up.

And another pivot was food delivery apps getting into groceries and daily essentials. Domino's included! In fact, Google is looking at starting restaurant food delivery services, according to ET NOW. 

E-learning is here to stay as well. Schools moved their classrooms online. Students across all ages found themselves wearing school shirts and night bottoms during the day. The mantra of the pandemic to survive was to go online, get creative. Teachers were experimenting with augmented reality in their classes to make their classes interesting. A sad twitter trend was students trolling and bullying teachers for being butterfingers with virtual online classes. Ed-tech startups from Khan Academy, Unacademy, Udemy, Coursera, BYJU's saw organic growth too. And some saw a top of the charts round of funding from tech VCs. Like Co-learn, a pre-series A startup that was funded by Sequoia’s Surge. It’s an Indonesian startup that offers online classes, live-streamed homework and exam assistance.

According to the World Bank Organisation, digital payments can be used to mitigate the impacts of the crisis. PayPal’s CEO, Dan Schulman said that the pandemic will drive adoption of digital payments. The future of digital payments will be the adoption of digital currencies and the mystical blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

Future of Work
Twitter has declared to move to telework after the world health crisis. Now that we are all working from home, companies are going to focus more on transforming the way they make talent decisions and monitor employees. Gartner analysis shows that 16% of employers are using tech more frequently to track productivity and engagement.  

Rahul Kulhari is the head of data science at EdGE Networks, an AI-based startup that makes talent decisions for HCL, Wipro and Virtusa. He says that companies will replace low skilled workforce with AI Technology like conversational AI replacing call centre employees. “To be more effective, recruiters will use AI, new technologies not only to support remote working but to enhance it.” Employees will also end up using a lot of work collaborations tools like Trello, Slack, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. COVID-19 will force organisations to move digitally and data requirements will increase. EdGE Networks collates structured and unstructured employee data across systems in different enterprises so that the organisations can simplify their employee decisions. Another trend one will see is upskilling the existing employees. Companies like EdGE Networks help B2B IT, Banking and Automotive companies plan, predict and diagnose how to manage in-house talent through data analytics. A blog on Deloitte says that the challenge perhaps will be how to be human in the technology-driven world.

India and data sovereignty 
Political turmoil is reflected in internet trends. We have seen it from the Arab Spring to the recent backlash against the Chinese apps. India banned 59 apps of Chinese origin citing data security, national sovereignty concerns. IT minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad has called other android and iOS platforms for a hearing if they are suspected of stealing or using users’ data without permissions. ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company saw a loss of $15 million dollars - according to a Reuters report. ByteDance has talked about investing a billion dollars in India but it seems like they will not get any attention from the government. 

Reliance JIO has made global headlines with Silicon Valley biggies - Microsoft, Google and Facebook – all three – investing billions in the company. Mukesh Ambani had said in one of the announcements – that data is the new oil. With Chinese investors and apps getting a bit of a pause in the market, Reliance is hobnobbing with the US tech giants with its 5G plans, Jio Glass (something like Google Glass), and an OS with Android for an entry-level smartphone. As Bob Dylan said long, long time ago - times, they are a’changing.