Koo: India’s alternative to X to shut services

Millions of social media users in India are stranded after the homegrown microblogging platform Koo, which positioned itself as an alternative to X, announced it was shutting down. The founders attributed this decision to a lack of funding and high technology costs.

Koo, launched in 2020, offered messaging in over 10 Indian languages. It gained popularity in 2021 when several ministers endorsed it during a dispute between the Indian government and X, formerly known as Twitter. The conflict arose when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government requested X to block certain accounts it claimed were spreading fake news, including those of journalists, news organizations, and opposition politicians. X initially complied but later restored the accounts, citing “insufficient justification.” The government then threatened legal action against X’s employees in India.

Amid this row, supporters, cabinet ministers, and officials from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) quickly migrated to Koo, many using hashtags calling for X to be banned in India. By the end of 2021, Koo had reached 20 million downloads in the country.

Despite this early success, Koo has struggled to secure funding in recent years. On Wednesday, founders Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka stated that Koo was “just months away” from surpassing X in India in 2022, but a “prolonged funding winter” forced them to scale back their ambitions. They mentioned that they had sought partnerships with larger internet companies, conglomerates, and media houses, but these discussions did not yield the desired results. Many potential partners were hesitant to handle user-generated content and the unpredictable nature of a social media platform, and some shifted their priorities close to finalizing agreements.

In February, Indian news websites reported that Koo was in talks to be acquired by news aggregator Dailyhunt, but these negotiations failed. In April 2023, Koo laid off 30% of its 260 employees due to severe losses and a lack of funding. The founders expressed their desire to keep the app running, but the high cost of technology services led them to make this difficult decision.

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