Languages are a means to an end, a journey as well as a destination

I recently wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times about the importance and value of thinking globally. Here’s an excerpt:

Consider Starbucks. In 2003, this aspiring global company supported a mere three languages. Today, it supports 25, which may sound like a lot until you compare it to many other global brands. Among the leading global brands, the average number of languages supported is 31, a new high based on my years of research. And then there are those companies that left 30 languages behind years ago — like Facebook, which supports more than 90 languages, and Google, which supports more than a hundred.

This degree of language growth isn’t just a tech phenomenon. John Deere supports 31 languages, Ford supports 42, and even Jack Daniels is fluent in 22 languages.

So while the U.S. leaders are speaking the rhetoric of isolationism, American companies of all sizes are speaking a different language — in fact, a lot of languages.

And here’s the full article.


How to localize date formats using Globalize.js

Dates are often used as case studies to illustrate the risks of ignoring cultural differences. For example, the date 4/7/2011 could be taken to mean July 4th by some and April 7th by others.

Fortunately, the open source JavaScript library Globalize provides a relatively easy way of delivering properly formatted dates (and other culture-specific data types) to users anywhere around the world.

In this article, I will show you how JavaScript’s built-in functions may be used to display dates and their inherent limitations and inconsistencies. I will then turn to Globalize to avoid these issues.

The not-so-simple approach to dates

Using the toString, toDateString or toTimeString

The simplest way to write a Date value would be to use the toString method, such as today.toString(). It produces, by definition, a system-defined presentation of the date.

In practice, you get some English-language notation, such as “Sat Jul 04 2015 13:30:50 GMT+0300,” independently of the language of the page, or the browser, or anything. However, browsers may try to localize the time zone denotation in their own ways. The code document.write(new Date(2115,6,11)) gives different results based on different browsers. The following examples are from browsers on a Finnish version of Windows 7 Pro:

Internet Explorer: Thu Jul 11 00:00:00 UTC+0300 2115
Firefox: Thu Jul 11 2115 00:00:00 GMT+0300 (Suomen kesaaika)
Opera: Thu Jul 11 2115 00:00:00 GMT+0300
Chrome: Thu Jul 11 2115 00:00:00 GMT+0300 (Suomen kes�aika)
Safari: Thu Jul 11 2115 00:00:00 GMT+0300 (Suomen kesäaika)
Android: Thu Jul 11 2115 00:00:00 GMT+0300 (EST)

So three of the six browsers write the time zone using a name in the language of the underlying operating system. Only Safari gets it right; Firefox and Chrome mess up the letter “ä” in two different ways.

The best we can say about the toString method for Date is that it produces some human-readable presentation of the moment of time. The presentation is widely understood, but far from universally. It would not look good on a page otherwise in Greek, Chinese, or Thai.

Similar challenges apply to using the methods toDateString and toTimeString.

Beware of implicit Date toString conversions

In JavaScript, toString() often gets applied implicitly. For example, if the value of foo is a Date object, then any of the following statements causes a call to toString:

document.getElementById('x').innerHTML = foo;
foo = foo + '';

Automatic conversion to strings are often a convenience, and many authors routinely make use of it, perhaps even without ever thinking about it. Thus, it is not always obvious from the code where data gets written in a manner that should be modified when localizing software. The convenience of automatic operations in JavaScript has drawbacks, too. The implicit conversion (or coercion) means that general, non-localized toString() methods are used.

The deceptive toLocaleDateString

It would be natural to expect that the toLocaleDateString method produces a localized presentation of the date, and it does. But, as a developer, the locale is beyond your control. Little does it help to have the date localized in Swahili when it should be in Arabic.

You may also get essentially different results on different browsers even with the same system. For example, writing a date on a Finnish Windows operating system, with user interface language set to French, I get:

Internet Explorer: dimanche 1 juillet 2012
Firefox: 11. heinäkuuta 2012
Opera: 11/07/2012

Globalize to the rescue

To localize the display of Date values, you could override the built-in toString method. For that, you would need code that converts a Date value to a localized string in a format that is suitable for the target locale.

Using the Globalize library, this would be easy:

Date.prototype.toString = function() {
return Globalize.format(this,'F'); }

This example uses a full-length (‘F’) format, which contains all of the date information. In many contexts, it would be better to display only subsets of this information, such a short date. To get more granular control, we need specific presentation formats, which we cover in more detail in Part II. But this code is an effective and lightweight way to protect against accidental non-localized writing of Date values.

Now suppose you have written, say, var today = new Date() in JavaScript. How would you display the date in a format that is understandable and unambiguous to the user? Let us first assume, for simplicity, that we know that the user is German-speaking and that a “long” or “full” format is to be used for the date.

Using the Globalize library, you could write the following:

<!doctype html>
<title>Globalize demo<title>
<meta charset=utf-8>
<p id=date></p>
<script type="text/javascript" src="globalize.js">

In the example above, the first two script elements are needed to refer to external library files. The files are assumed to reside in the same folder as the page, so that you can use just filenames as URLs. The files referred to can be downloaded via the Globalize page at GitHub. The page address still reflects the old name “jQuery Global” of the library, but the Globalize library is now totally independent of jQuery, though it reflects same general idea “write less, do more.” Using Globalize by no means excludes using jQuery, but neither does it require it.

The code uses the “plain” way of accessing an element with getElementById() and setting its innerHTML property. If you are used to jQuery, you would probably want to replace the assignment with a shorter construct:


Depending on the actual date, the web page would display:

Mittwoch, 25. Mai 2011

And you didn’t need to know a single word of German to produce this text string.

Article excerpted from Going Global with JavaScript and Globalize.js by Jukka Korpella.

Google vs. Baidu: A User Experience Analysis

There are tons of articles about Google vs. Baidu, but few of these articles take an in-depth look at how Google compares to Baidu from a Chinese user’s perspective.

In this article, I do just that, and I render a verdict as to which Web site is better.


The best way to compare search engine quality is to compare searches.

I recently input three Chinese keywords for my experiment:

  • 许霆 (Xu Ting: A Chinese citizen who was recently involved in a controversial criminal case)
  • 次级房贷 (Subprime mortgage)
  • 看羹吃饭 (Kan-Geng-Chi-fan: A phrase used and recognized by a relatively small number of Chinese, meaning that you have to think carefully before taking action)

These keywords represent three different categories of information people search for online. Xu Ting is a hot keyword in China at the moment but it has received little international media coverage. Subprime mortgage, on the other hand, is a foreign concept and the term has been transliterated into Chinese characters from the English equivalent. Kan-Geng-Chi-fan is used within a specific dialect that is not used by the majority of Chinese citizens.

Okay, here are the results as of April 18, 2008:

“Xu Ting”

It would seem that Baidu knows much more about Xu Ting than Google, although I did not verify that every result referred to this particular individual.

Interestingly, in the first results page of both and, one of the search results directed users to Baidu Post — Baidu’s popular user forum.

Overall, I would rate both sites equally because the top 20 results from each search engine were highly qualified and I could easily find information I wanted from there. Verdict: A tie.

“Subprime mortgage”

This time appears to do much better than Baidu. But if we look closely at the top 20 search results, we’ll find there are 7 results at and 5 results at that direct us to Web sites that use traditional Chinese characters, which are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and by the overseas Chinese community.

It can be rather challenging for the mainland Chinese to read traditional Chinese, though they can understand most of the message. Nonetheless, this mix of simplified and traditional Characters is not the most user-friendly approach. Verdict: Baidu wins.

“Kan Geng Chi Fan”

At first glance, Google produced overwhelmingly more information than Baidu. However, if we examine the details, Google did not perform so well. Neither nor produce an accurate search result within the first 10 pages respectively, while all the 207 search results from Baidu are accurate. Verdict: Baidu wins again.

Based on these three searches, Google comes across as a bit complicated and “foreign” to Chinese users. Baidu is the superior Chinese search engine.


Both Google and Baidu are trying to leverage their network effects to promote other products. Google has many excellent products, but not every product has performed well in China. For example, Google Maps is widely used by American users. Unfortunately, Google Maps in China is unable to provide the same features due to unavailability of mapping data in China. Google’s satellite map currently only covers the major Chinese cities. Should Google acquire better maps, it would have a clear advantage over Baidu, which doesn’t offer the same degree of functionality and usability in its map tool.

Although music copyright is a controversial issue within China, the market reality is that millions of Chinese Internet users download free music online. Baidu understands this reality and its music search product — which presents a list of links for free music downloads when people search by song, singer, or label — is extremely popular. Google is unable to compete with Baidu in this regard due to its adherence to US copyright laws.

Another example is Baidu Post, an online forum allowing Internet user to create new topics based on search keywords and provide commentary. When people search online by keyword, they can also follow these keywords to Baidu Post, where they may find additional information — or at least find out what others think of the selected keywords.

Online forums are a very important medium in China for distributing information online. I think an important reason for this is because the Chinese, as well as many businesses, want to remain anonymous. While this may change in the years ahead as the next generation embraces social networking sites, for the time being, online forums are dominant. Baidu also offers a blog platform (Hi Baidu) while Google has localized Blogger into Chinese, very few Chinese people currently use it.

Local culture and consumer behavior are critical factors in determining whether a product will succeed in an overseas market or not. So far, Google products have not been as appealing as Baidu to Chinese users.

The Brand Name

The name of Baidu (百度) is from a beautiful Chinese ancient poem:

Thousands of times, I looked for my girl;

Suddenly, at some point, I stopped and looked back,

I found she was just over there among a bunch of lanterns.

This poem, written by Qiji Xin, who lived in the Song Dynasty nearly 1000 years ago, is still very popular in China and also taught in high schools. Baidu in Chinese means thousands of times. In Chinese culture, this poem communicates one’s desire to achieve his/her dreams. Obviously, meshes well with the services offered by Baidu, a company that claims it better understands Chinese users and Chinese culture.

Google started to use its Chinese name Guge (谷歌) in 2006. Guge (goo-ge) is transliterated from Google and it literally means “the song of grain” in Chinese. A survey conducted in 2006 shows 84.6% Chinese do not like this name. I think the most important reason is that Chinese people want to feel international and modern. This is also one reason you may see many Chinese companies using English words in their marketing materials, as it creates an international effect. The “song of grain” presents an image of the agricultural society that the Chinese people are striving to break away from.

Google has exerted a good deal of effort in localizing its name for China but it has not yet been accepted by the Chinese people. It may take some time. Some companies have chosen to simply use their English names in China, avoiding localization altogether, such as IBM.

To sum up, Baidu definitely has an edge over Google in China. But it is early yet and Google has been doing things such as redesigning its Chinese home page, which may resonate with users. The key takeaway here is that every new market is a new challenge; just because you are number one at home does not mean you will be number one in every country you enter. Should Baidu enter the US market some day, it will face many of the same challenges that Google is now facing in China.

Globalization behind the firewall: A work in progress

Guest Article:
By Jane McConnell

Based on the 2007 Global Intranet Strategies Survey by NetStrategy/JMC

The second annual Global Intranet Strategies Survey conducted from June through August 2007 revealed some starting facts about the true state of globalization behind the firewall.

78 organizations around the world participated, representing 45% headquartered in Europe, 43% in North America, 10% in Asia-Pacific and 2% in other parts of the world. Over half have more than 15,000 employees, including 8% with 50 to 100,000 employees and 13% with over 100,000 employees.

This article highlights some of the issues dealt with in the survey concerning globalization in intranets: languages, localization, collaboration, customization and global teams.

Single language is prevalent, translation is rudimentary
The study shows that although two thirds of the participating companies are present in many countries, they tend to have a single corporate language. Approximately 3 out of 5 say they are primarily a “single-language” organization and have “single-language” intranet.

Those who do deal in multi-language contexts struggle with translation issues. The translation process is largely a manual one, with few that using technologies such as integration of the translation process into the CMS or translation memory software solutions. The percentages below show the proportion of companies saying the tool or process either exists throughout or in some parts of their organization (figures based on the 72 out of 178 companies who translate intranet content):

Multi-lingual glossaries – 38%
Machine translation – 19%
Translation memory software – 10%
Integration of translation into the Content management system – 11%
Definition of a clear process among the people involved in translations – 31%

Localization: A 3-step process
Effective localization strategies start with a global strategy and pass through the intermediary step of internationalization as defined below before reaching the localization level. 35% of the companies in the survey population have a globalization strategy, which was defined as “defining systems, procedures based on the whole organization, such as global teams, standardizing intranet-related processes across the organization, sharing resources across the organization.”

28% say they practice internationalization, defined as “creating models for templates, guidelines, content that can easily be adapted to local needs without needing to revise the model, such as menu structures, customization, navigation, meta data.” Only 24% have localization strategies, defined as “procedures for adapting internationalized models to meet local needs, such as specific navigation, template adaptations, content strategies, language, etc.”

Collaboration: Not yet optimized globally
Intranets are not yet optimized for collaboration among employees. Globalization of companies means that people around the world who do not know each other need to work in teams together. Virtual teams become essential workplaces for global companies. However, only 20% of the companies say their employees perceive collaboration as one of the primary objectives of the intranet. However, between 30 and 40% have collaborative spaces integrated into the intranet.

The top 3 collaboration tools rated as “optimized” or “in general use” in the consolidated results of all 178 enterprises are (1) web conferencing at 31%, (2) shared calendars at 30% and (3) instant messaging at 23%. The usage of these and other collaborative tools by companies who say the intranet has become the “way of working” internally is dramatically higher than in companies where the intranet is not yet “the way of working”.

Customization: A necessity to remain relevant
All global organizations struggle to define strategies for how to offer common content to everyone, helping to build a shared culture, and proposing customized content to users, making them more efficient and satisfied. The survey shows that half or more of the content and services on intranets is “automatically delivered by the system according to the person’s profile” in 23% of the organizations. However, only 8% offer “personalizable content – explicit choices made by the person him/herself” for half or more of the content. Once again, companies where the intranet is the way of working today have intranets with a higher degree of personalization that the other companies.

Global teams and steering committees smooth the way
Global intranet teams are essential if an organization wishes to ensure that an intranet meets user and business needs around the world. However, global teams exist in only 31% of the organizations with another 12% “planned.” Steering committees with decision-making power should have representation from all parts of the organization. In fact they exist in 46% of the cases with another 10% “planned.”

The survey shows that certain major obstacles are significantly decreased in the cases where these global bodies exist. Examples are out of date information, unclear navigation and difficulties getting content producers to contribute. All these issues exist to a greater extent in companies where there are no global teams or global decision-making bodies.

Future trends

  • Both customization and the availability of collaboration tools will increase. This is clear from the markedly higher usage in enterprises where the intranet is the way of working today.
  • Portals will become more common, thereby requiring the ability to be customized in order to remain relevant. 38% of those who do not currently have portal solutions plan to move in that direction in terms of intranet structures.
  • The number of languages in an intranet will increase over time, according to 38% of the participants. Hopefully translation will be facilitated by the use of technology, but the number of responses indicating plans in this area is very low.
  • “User-centered design and usability” is the leading area of planned investment over 2008 and 2009. 60% of the respondents expressed it as their number one area. Acquisition of new tools such as content management systems, search engines, statistics tool were further down the list.

Intranets are slowing moving up the value chain in the mind of the average senior executive. The proportion of organizations where senior management considers the intranet to be business critical increased from 13% in 2006 to 17.5% in 2007. This is low, but at least the number is rising.

A manager in a country distant from headquarters of his organization says, “The farther you are from the center, the more you need the intranet. But the farther you are from the center, the less the intranet meets your needs.” Companies who understand this can take big steps towards making their intranet relevant to all employees, whoever and wherever they are. It requires strategy and investment in the areas mentioned in this article. In the end, the intranet will become a tool that brings value to both employees and the business as the enterprise gradually becomes truly global.

Stay tuned for the 2008 survey to see if progress is being made in this area!

About the Author
Jane McConnell is an intranet and portal strategy specialist. She founded NetStrategy/JMC in 2001 and works primarily with companies and organizations with complex intranets and challenges. McConnell writes the column International Intranets for the magazine Intranets: Enterprise Strategies and Solutions (Information Today). Her English blog is Globally Local & Locally Global and the French one is Carnet intranet. She initiated the Annual Global Intranet Strategies Survey in 2006, and published the 2007 results in the form of two reports that can be purchased: Global Intranet Trends and Global Intranet Analysis. More information is available on or by contacting Jane at

Most popular posts of 2007

I’ve had Google Analytics installed on this site for some time now, which makes it a great resource for tracking the most popular posts of the year.

So here are the top 10 posts of 2007 based on traffic:

  1. The Best Global Web Sites of 2007
  2. Starbucks CEO on Globalization: Don’t Go Changing This quote from the Starbucks CEO speaks volumes about the company’s success around the world.
  3. Which Country; Which Language? A guest article by John Greenwood of InterPro Translation Services continues to be very popular.
  4. The Best Global Web Sites (and why) This entry is a nice summary of some of the best practices exhibited by the top sites in the 2007 Report Card.
  5. Register.Me Montenegro is getting its own country code (.me) and one can imagine the entertaining possibilities this domain presents for creative URLs.
  6. Staples: Asi de Facil Hardly a week goes by that I don’t press my “That was easy” button, translated in Spanish. They sell a lot of these here in San Diego. I’m still waiting for the Chinese version.
  7. If The World Were 100 People This is a personal favorite.
  8. Scaling a Great Wall: Top 5 Tips for Learning Chinese This is another guest article, by Saul Gitlin of Kang & Lee, and a very hot topic these days.
  9. Just Don’t Do It: The Art of Slogan Translation
  10. The Localization of iPhone

So there you have it — the top 10 entries out of the 99 entries posted in 2007. Yes, I know I’m not the most active blogger as bloggers go. But I only blog when the urge strikes and sometimes it just does not strike. Which is probably a good thing.

As Abraham Lincoln once said: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

And on that note I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

Marketing opportunities in the German blogosphere

Last week I gave a presentation about international Websites and how to position your offering in the Web 2.0 world. One of the questions that came up was: how many blogs are out there? And does it make sense to sponsor blogs or advertise on them?

Estimating the size of the German blogosphere

Intuitively, I was sure for the U.S., Japan and China, but I was not so sure about Germany. So I tried to find out the size of the German blogossphere and came with the following contradictory numbers:

  • Blogcensus is an effort to count all of the active German blogs and relies on manual inspection. Their estimate is app. 115.000 active blogs (an active blog means at least a post per month). I think this is way too low.
  • The German magazine Focus claims to have counted app. 1.1 million German blogs. But I think this is way too high.
  • Technorati’s “State of the Blogosphere” counted 50 millions blogs in 2006 and claims that app. 1% of blog posts were in German. With the bold assumption that the blogging frequency is the same globally, this would result in app. 500.000 blogs in German. This seems to me to be a more realistic estimate (and in line with other guestimates of other sources).

Going forward with Technorati’s numbers let’s compare the relative sizes of the blogospheres in the following countries:

Size of blogospheres

Although the numbers are from 2006, I believe that the relative comparison between the different blogospheres are still true, nevertheless.

With the assumption that app. 10% of the internet users are aware of blogs and potentially read them, the relationship of writers to readers is skewed in the German blogosphere: there are many more readers than bloggers.

Consequences for international Web marketing

  • In absolute and relative numbers that the German blogosphere is very, very small. It is on par with Farsi, which might overtake German in the near future: there are only 72 million people who speak Farsi compared to app. 98 million German speaking people.
  • Capturing a large part of the German blogosphere is easier than in other languages, because there are fewer bloggers per potential reader.
  • Other blogospheres are much larger in relation to the number of their internet users. For example the Japanese, Chinese, English or Italian blogosphere are much larger (4x to 24x times!). And blogs there are likely to attract many more visitors, too. Competition for readers is likely to be fierce in these languages.