Times Internet Ltd (Indiatimes), the Internet and Mobile arm of the Times of India group, has launched HiBuddy, a voice based social network for mobile subscribers in India. While the service has currently been launched with Reliance Mobile, it’s worth noting that the access is via Indiatimes’ code 58888199. Once enabled with other telecom operators, HiBuddy could offer the interoperability that Airtel Blogs currently lacks.

But why does Indiatimes have two separate networks – iTimes for the Internet, and Hibuddy for mobile? Mobile enabling iTimes would have added to its userbase, while also offering iTimes users a voice/mobile option; additionally, they would have another dataset for existing iTimes users: the mobile number. Ibibo’s recent launch of MyVoice serves as an example of voice based status updates on web and mobile (though I wish there was a way to disable their SMS updates).

Pricing

Access to Hibuddy on Reliance is priced at Rs. 15 for 15 days for subscription, and Rs. 1 per minute for access. Users can sign up with their mobile number, go to the Manage Friends menu and send an add request voice message to other subscribers. Users can visit “Your Personal Zone”, listen to updates from their friends and respond to them; they can visit “Edit my profile” to change their status.

Rights To Your Updates; Promotional Updates On HiBuddy

According to Hibuddy’s terms and conditions:
– Ownership of Content:User hereby grant (sic) to TIL and its affiliates, a non-exclusive, royalty free, perpetual, irrevocable and sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, distribute, perform or display such Content. However TIL shall not be responsible for the Content posted by the User or other users.” Could it be more perfect? Ownership without accountability. You’re paying to publish content on Hibuddy, and yet granting them this broad license to monetize. That said, this appears to be a common industry practice. Airtel Blog also owns the content published on it. Who reads terms and conditions anyway?
– Promotional Profiles/Properties:User shall not offer any contest, giveaway, or promotion on Hi-Buddy without our prior written consent of TIL. This effectively limits the options for promotional accounts being set up by brands on Hibuddy; these will probably have to be licensed by TIL.

Revenue Potential

Here’s the thing – as sceptical as we may be about Voice blogging and voice based blogging/networking (cumbersome, expensive, discovery issues), it does appear to bring in the moolah. Airtel claims its voice blogs have 2 million subscribers. The top 10:

1. Amitabh Bachchan (Bollywood) *5000*
2. Ramayan (Devotional stories) *5010*
3. Sonu Nigam (Musician) *5030*
4. Lara Dutta (Bollywood) *5148*
5. Neetu Chandra (Bollywood) *5147*
6. BBC News (News updates) *5151*
7. Mika Singh (Musician) *5084*
8. Hans Raj Hans (Musician) *5005*
9. Deepal Shaw (Bollywood) *5096*
10. Palash Sen (Musician) *5016*
(more here)

Note to Airtel: when I called up *5000* and *5151*, the price of the subscribing to the blogs was not disclosed.

Filmstar Amitabh Bachchan’s voice-blog ‘Bachchan Bol’ available on Reliance (at 56665000) and Airtel (at *5000*) has a staggering 600,000 subscribers, according to a tweet from Bachchan. Rajesh Barnwal, on Twitter, said that assuming Rs. 30 per month for subscription that means Bachchan Blog would earn the telecom operators an aggregate Rs. 1.8 crore a month alone, as tweeted by. Call charges would, of course, be extra. It’s perhaps less than that, given that the earlier price of Airtel Blogs (for BBC News) was Rs. 10 per month subscription, and Rs. 0.75 per minute for listening. Expensive, but it apparently has takers.