Pull-Down Menus Are A Global Problem

As companies add more and more localized Web sites to their portfolio, they are increasingly resorting to using pull-down menus for navigation. Yet as the FedEx gateway (below) illustrates, pull-down menus are no panacea; they may in fact cause more problems than they solve.

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The FedEx gateway includes more than 170 countries from which to choose. For residents of the US, the menu is rather easy to use – as the US has in effect jumped to the front of the line. But what if you are a resident of Sweden, Taiwan, or Venezuela? I’m afraid you have a lengthy bit of scrolling to do.

Pull-down menus simply do not “scale” well. In addition, this particular menu does not list the countries in their native languages – also not a good idea; this raises a more vexing problem – how would you alphabetize the list of countries if they were in their native languages?

Finally, FedEx makes a major (but common) mistake by placing the U.S.A. at the top of the menu. This display of favoritism may benefit the bulk of its Web users, but its does not create the appearance of a globally agnostic company. I’ve spoken with more than a few non-US residents who resent this strategy.

So what’s the solution? The 3Com gateway offers a very good alternative:

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Notice how the gateway groups the countries by region, thereby avoiding any patent displays of favoritism. The site also presents the countries in their native languages – a huge usability boost.

Granted, the page only includes a fraction of the countries that the FedEx menu includes, but I believe that it could be expanded to include an equal number of sites.

While I realize that the pull-down menu takes up very little real estate, it’s simply not a valid solution for global gateways. For our recent presentation on this hot topic, check out The Art of the Global Gateway.

Web Site Review: Dura Automotive

We received a press release this week from DURA Automotive Systems regarding their Web globalization efforts. Here is an excerpt:

With locations in more than 14 countries, Web-based communication transcending the barrier of language is critical for DURA Automotive Systems. Developing and maintaining a Web site for multiple languages can, however, be a time intensive and costly endeavor. With the development of a Web-based administrative tool by Logic Solutions of Ann Arbor, visitors to DURA’s website will be able to view the website in the language of their choice simply by selecting it from a dropdown menu. And, more importantly, DURA will have seven or eight dynamic Web sites with the maintenance of one.

First Comment: This press release was issued prematurely.

According to this release, Logic Solutions is providing both a software tool to help DURA manage the eight sites more easily and a navigation tool that will help visitors to the site easily find their specific locale. Yet when we visited the site, there was no navigation tool to be found. Here is the home page:

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Although the administrative tools may very well be in place, the navigation aid for visitors is absent. For example, to get to the German site (shown below) we had to input the URL directory: www.duraauto.de.

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Second Comment: A global template will ease the management burden.

We still need to learn more about the backend management tools. Yet just by looking at the English and German sites we see widely different layouts. Should DURA adopte a global template, it could save significantly in maintenance costs because promotional blurbs and visuals can be prepared to fit globally consistent layouts.

Final Comment: Translation firms beware; Web development firms are coming!

It is interesting to note that these Web globalization tools were prepared by a Web development firm and not a localization or translation firm. As more companies invest in global sites, we expect more Web development and integration firms to enter the fray.

What has long been the domain of the translation industry could be co-opted by other industries. That’s not to say that translation firms don’t have an important role to play; they do. But the question is: will translation firms be kept behind the scenes as low-end vendors, or will they become valuable business consultants? My gut says that most translation firms will not move up this value chain (more on this in 2004).

Can You Find the Global Gateway?

I’m a strong advocate for “global gateways.” A global gateway is the term I used to refer to the navigation system that directs users to their language-specific or locale-specific Web sites. Once you offer more than one language or locale, you’re going to need a gateway. (Here’s our report on the topic.)

To understand the importance of the global gateway, I recommend visiting a Web site that offers multiple languages. Start with the Web page of a language you do not speak and see how easy it is to get to the English-language site. Here’s a good test site: the Danish company TDC. Currently, the link to the English-language site is effectively buried. I’ve also included an excerpt below in case the site gets redesigned.

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As you can see the “English” link is located on the very bottom of the page. Only the most persistent visitor will be fortunate enough to find it.

Amazon uses a similar strategy:

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Unfortunately, most Web sites — even the most locally usable Web sites — have a long way to go in creating globally usable Web sites.