The era of Internet browsing centers is over. But Chennai’s Net World disagrees

Navigation centers, popular in the late 90s, are now practically a relic of the past. So how does Chennai’s Net World stay relevant?

Navigation centers, popular in the late 90s, are now practically a relic of the past. So how does Chennai’s Net World stay relevant?

Four computers and a dial-up connection that would take hours to connect. This is what Jagadeesh Ramsingh invested in in 1998, when he was fresh out of college and harboring entrepreneurial dreams.

Jagadeesh set up Net World on St. Mary’s Road, Mandaveli, for people “who wanted to check out Hotmail…because it was the only email service provider at the time”.

“I remember visiting the Net Cafe near the Music Academy, one of the first internet browsing hubs in the city, and watching how things were going there. For ₹80 they offered a hour of sailing, plus a cup of coffee,” recalls Jagadeesh. , which was among the first in the city to create such a centre.

An hour of internet browsing was here at the competitive price of ₹40. “My expenses were high. We had to buy a connection, costing around ₹10,000, in addition to the landline investment. it only turns on after a customer has entered, waits for them to log in, and lets them use it. Once they’re done, we turn off the connection and wait for the next customer to arrive,” he recalls.

A shipping center in Chennai

A shipping center in Chennai | Photo credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Initially, users came to verify and send mail. “Thereafter, online chat became fashionable, and young people began to flock to us,” he rejoices. Yahoo chat rooms were a big hit until Orkut and then Facebook took over.

Since then, Jagadeesh and Net World have seen drastic changes in technology and giant leaps in internet speeds. Yet they remain relevant, albeit under a slightly different avatar. The physical setup remains largely the same, but the services offered there have branched out to include printer maintenance, photostat, lamination, spiral binding and DTP work (English and Tamil).

There are multiple options for users today: broadband connections at home, apart from mobile data and WiFi options on mobile phones. But this still does not sign the death of navigation centers, underlines the 47-year-old man.

With many college and government applications going online, Net World, which currently hosts eight computers, is as busy as ever. “A lot of people still don’t know how to use the Internet,” he says. “Even if they do, they are afraid of making mistakes when filling out, for example, a ration card or a driver’s license application.”

When Jagadeesh and his manager at the center first filled in these requests, even they were a little confused, but as they started doing it repeatedly, it became easy. “As we are now experienced, it is easy for us to navigate websites and fill in customer details.” For a service fee of ₹100, customers will now have an expert sit by their side and do the work.

Customers come not only from his neighborhood but also from Royapettah, Teynampet and West Mambalam. “They come to us because we’re probably one of the few shipping centers still functioning. They tell us, ‘We used to have such centers in our area, but they’ve all closed,'” says Jagadeesh, who also runs a tour and travel company.

So, what gives him the energy to continue? “I’m happy because I have two businesses close at hand. In the future, given our experience with the Internet, we may also explore other online job opportunities. »

A recent incident gives him hope. “Some information needed to be added to the ration card online process for many users, and it was announced that it had to be done within a day.” That day, Jagadeesh saw a queue outside his center, something he hadn’t seen since the days of the Yahoo chat. “Hopefully we will see more such days.”

Graphics: Albert Francis

Graphics: Albert Francis

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