The article was published in Wall Street Journal
Google researchers in Silicon Valley were trying to figure out why so many smartphones were freezing up half a world away. One in three smartphone users in India run out of space on their phones daily.
The answer? Two words. “Good Morning!”
The glitch, Google discovered, was an overabundance of sun-dappled flowers, adorable toddlers, birds and sunsets sent along with a cheery message.
Millions of Indians are getting online for the first time—and they are filling up the internet. Many like nothing better than to begin the day by sending greetings from their phones. Starting before sunrise and reaching a crescendo before 8 a.m., internet newbies post millions of good-morning images to friends, family and strangers.
All that good cheer is driving a 10-fold increase in the number of Google searches for “Good Morning images” over the past five years. Pinterest, the San Francisco visual-search platform, added a new section to display images with quotes. It saw a ninefold increase over the past year in the number of people in India downloading such pictures.
Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service—which has 200 million monthly active users in India, making the country its biggest market—added a status message last year so users could say good morning to all of their contacts at once.
Desh Raj Sharma, 71 years old, recently started using a smartphone. At around 6 a.m. every day he searches for and sends good-morning images to more than 50 friends and family using WhatsApp.
In one recent dispatch, a toddler sporting a fedora and holding his hand over his chest says, “Our heart is the only thing in the world that works without any rest. So keep it happy, whether it is yours or your dear one’s. Good Morning.”
In another, an image of Krishna, the Hindu god of love, is paired with the words “Good Morning. Silent prayers often reach God faster, because they are not bound by the weight of words."
“These WhatsApp messages are really my thoughts put into words," said Mr. Sharma.
Perhaps India’s most famous morning-message enthusiast is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He gets up at 5 a.m. to practice yoga and is known to fire off good-morning messages as the sun is rising. Last year, he admonished a group of lawmakers for not responding to his greetings.
Bonding with large groups through work, school, family and friend circles is important for Indians. This is one reason wedding celebrations often involve hundreds if not thousands of guests. That tendency has been given new fuel in the form of affordable smartphones and wireless broadband.
Some complain all these greetings come too early, are too cheery and too likely to freeze their low-cost, low-memory phones. To deal with the annoying morning cheer, some leave message groups or refuse to download the images.
Mr. Sharma’s niece, 24-year-old Prerna Sharma, says she respects her uncle and is glad he is excited about technology—but she has had enough from him and her other relatives who send morning messages every day.
“They’ll call you and say, ‘did you see that good morning?’ ” she said, and she doesn’t know what to say because she rarely reads them. “Most of the time my notifications are on mute.”
Popular Indian comedy group “All India Bakchod” addressed the issue in an October skit. A bedraggled man plays the role of WhatsApp, driven to exhaustion by a demanding mother who orders him to deliver morning messages to friends and family who ignore the messenger.
When Google researchers peeked into Indian consumers’ phones, they found thousands of “good morning” images gumming up their storage. One in three smartphone users in India run out of space daily, according to a survey by data-storage firm Western Digital Corp. , compared with one in 10 in the U. S.
Google’s solution: a new app called Files Go that highlights files for possible deletion—with a special feature to search out and delete all good-morning messages at once.
The company used its giant image database and artificial-intelligence tools to train the app to weed out good-morning messages. The key to spotting them was looking for a certain size and type of image file, said Josh Woodward, the Google product manager in Mountain View, Calif., who led the effort.
“We were trying to deconstruct what is the DNA of a good morning message for months,” he said. “It’s been a lot of hard work to get it right." Early versions were picking out photos of children wearing T-shirts with words on them.
Google unveiled the app in December in New Delhi. The morning-message deleting function prompted the crowd of media and government officials to break out in applause.
The app has more than 10 million downloads so far, with more users in India than any other country. It has cleared up on average more than 1 gigabyte of data per user, Google said.
Kanwarjot Singh, 31, tapped into the good-morning craze with his website, WishGoodMorning.com, which he launched in 2015. Hundreds of thousands of people download his images. Categories include special messages for siblings, boyfriends and girlfriends and bosses.
One recent message shows a golden sunset and the phrase, “We permit limitations to limit us, instead of limiting our limitations.” Another, showing a single red rose, says, “Good morning to my life’s rose. Your fragrance makes all of life’s thorns worth tolerating.”
Mr. Singh is a morning-message maniac himself. Before getting out of bed, he spends as long as 45 minutes on his smartphone responding to the many messages he has already received. Then he dispatches his own cheery notes to friends and relatives. “I feel happy people are remembering me," he said.
On the first morning of the new year, he found the perfect image. It showed mountain peaks and a rising sun, signalling the dawn of 2018.
WhatsApp says more than 20 billion New Year’s messages were sent in India, a record, and more than any other country.