Websites are dead. Long live websites.

Remember not very long ago when social media experts were preaching the value of a Facebook page over a website?

It was not uncommon to be told to dump your website altogether in favor of a Facebook page and Twitter feed. Why bother with HTML when you you could simply hashtag your way to global success?

My how times have changed.

I find it telling that, according to Marketing Land,  Super Bowl ads displayed website URLs over hashtags for the first time in several years:

Perhaps hashtags aren’t as a sexy as they once were.

And Facebook is not the generous landlord it once was; anyone who wants to get their message out to all followers is going to have to pay to do so. Facebook and Instagram were mentioned in only 6% of those Super Bowl ads.

And what about mobile apps? Remember when everyone needed one?

According to ComScore, people only use about 25 apps a month, while they will visit 100 websites. So if you’re not among those top 25 mobile apps, you’re far better off investing in your website.

Websites continue to be the best bang for your marketing dollar.  Not just in the United States but around the world.

I’m hard at work on the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card and I’ve noticed an increasing number of companies asking visitors to join their mailing list.  I believe email was dead once as well not very long ago.

Email is still here. So are websites. The more things change the more things stay the same.

Long live websites…

 

Conduent and 5 tips for creating a more world-ready website

Xerox recently spun off its services unit into a billion-dollar global company known as Conduent.

I took a quick look at the Conduent website to see how world-ready this “global” website had become in its very first iteration. And, spoiler alert, it’s clear that Conduent is only just getting started.

Here’s an excerpt of the home page:

And a close-up of the global gateway, such as it is:

Here’s a close-up of a Twitter excerpt on the home page:

What about mobile? Here’s the home page on a smartphone:

And the mobile menu:

Where’s the global gateway menu you might ask?

So I thought I’d put together a few tips that would be useful to Conduent — and any other company that is on the verge of expanding its website globally.

5 tips for creating a more world-ready website:

  1. Keep it lightweight. Already, Conduent is loaded with videos and large photographs that add significant “weight” in kilobytes to the web page. When thinking globally, companies need to think about slower mobile networks around the world and make sure that weight limits are in place to allow the website to display and respond quickly on these networks.
  2. Don’t just respond to mobile devices, respond to mobile customers. It’s nice that the mobile website does not default to animation (like the desktop site) but all we’re seeing now is a scaled-down version of the desktop website. Ideally, the mobile site supports mobile-specific usage scenarios, which isn’t yet evident here. I don’t see the global gateway on the mobile site — a rookie mistake, but one that really does punish mobile users who want to navigate to local content (when that content is available).
  3. Get your global gateway right the first time. In Conduent’s case, that means losing the American flag. I realize the circled flag is inspired by Apple, but Apple is on the wrong side of history on this one I’m afraid. Instead, Conduent should develop a text-only global gateway menu, which will scale more readily.
  4. Bake social into the design. Conduent does a nice job of highlighting its Twitter feed on its home page. Going forward, it’s important that Conduent support local-language Twitter (and other social) feeds that can be excerpted on the home page. By doing so, website visitors are more likely to discover the localized feeds and are more likely to engage with you.
  5. Think local by design content. Social content in the local language is a great beginning. But what about local language blogs and other content? Conduent does support a number of English-language blogs. It will be nice to see these blogs replicated in other markets, managed by local content creators.

For more insights into website globalization, check out the Web Globalization Report Card.

Celebrating the “Father of Pinyin”

I was saddened to read that “the father of Pinyin” died this weekend in Beijing (though he did live to be 111 years old). While until now I never knew very much about the man himself — who daringly criticized the Chinese government, wrote dozens of books, and was exiled during the Cultural Revolution — I was very familiar with (and grateful for) Pinyin when I began learning Chinese.

Pinyin, a romanized version of the Chinese language — which allows non-native speakers a much, much easier way to learn the language — was adopted by China in 1958, replacing the former Wade-Giles system. (Wade-Giles had been conceived by two British diplomats, and its pronunciation guide was very different and far less accurate — for example, the Wade-Giles word for Beijing is the far-less-accurate Peking.) And, as Zhou’s New York Times obituary notes:

Since then, Pinyin (the name can be translated as “spelled sounds”) has vastly increased literacy throughout the country; eased the classroom agonies of foreigners studying Chinese; afforded the blind a way to read the language in Braille; and, in a development Mr. Zhou could scarcely have foreseen, facilitated the rapid entry of Chinese on computer keyboards and cellphones.

I began to learn Chinese in the early 1990s, before moving to Asia to teach English as a second language. I began in the States with an introductory university class in which we were required to memorize characters, which was insanely difficult. In addition to that, our Chinese teacher was Taiwanese, which meant he used traditional characters as opposed to simplified characters (adopted in mainland China to increase literacy). Here is the word for beautiful in simplified Chinese:

美丽

 

And here is the same word in traditional Chinese:

美麗

 

Notice how many more strokes are required in the traditional version. Also note: There is no way for a native English speaker to tell, just by looking at either character, how to pronounce the word. This is where Pinyin comes in. If it weren’t for Pinyin — that is, if I’d had to go by Wade-Giles’ pronunciations — no one I spoke with in Taipei would’ve been able to understand a word of what I said (and it was hard enough as it was; Mandarin Chinese also has four tones for every character, and getting those wrong is all too easy for a foreigner).

Once in Taiwan, I realized I had to focus on spoken Mandarin rather than the written language — most important to survival was learning how to talk. I did have to learn a great many traditional characters, however — this was necessary for everything from eating (in places with written menus, though I ate mostly from food carts) to banking (all transactions on ATMs were in Chinese characters) to finding my way around the country (all of the road signs and bus signs were also in traditional characters).

The language was so different that I learned to “forget English,” as my Chinese tutor taught me; the only way I could grasp the language was to approach it not by translating things in my head but by thinking in Chinese. And this was fascinating…the Chinese language is beautiful, complex, and vast, and when you start to think in Chinese, it’s easier to learn the language, as each character is built from a combination of ideas. To use a simple example, here is the simplified character for the word America:

美国

 

And here is the traditional character:

美國

It is pronounced Mĕi guó, which is translated as “beautiful country” — as you can see, the first part of the character (美, mei) is from the character above, for beauty.

When I returned from Asia after two years, I was so used to thinking in another, very different, language that I found it hard to put English sentences together; I often spoke in simple sentences, as if I were translating my thoughts from Chinese back into English. It took a long time to sound like a normal native English speaker again.

I reflect on all this as my first book, Forgetting English, is released in its third edition. The title story, while fictional, has many moments — including the one with my Chinese tutor — inspired by my time in Asia.

It’s been especially enlightening to reflect on the extraordinary life of Zhou Youguang; as you’ll read in his obituary, he was so much more than the father of Pinyin. Sent to a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution, he remained an open critic of Chinese communism. His many accomplishments include overseeing the translation of the Encyclopedia Britannica into Chinese, and he wrote more than 40 books (some of them banned in China), at least 10 of them published after he turned 100 — truly inspiring.

 

Language Connects People

I’ve just printed a new batch of our popular Language Connects People posters and have a few that are not quite perfect that I’m offering at a discounted price.

As you can see here, there is a small black line around the edges — nothing you’d see after framing, but not quite perfect.

If you’re interested, these prints are just $15 plus shipping. To purchase yours use this link.

The internet connects computers; language connects people. Click to Tweet

Lululemon: Global shipping is step one

lululemon

Lululemon provides an interesting case study of a US-based retailer taking its first steps towards going global.

And, like all first steps, this one is rather awkward.

To be clear, Lululemon is only focused on shipping globally, which is a nice feature for English-speaking customers around the world. But I wish the website made this explicitly clear, so that web users who don’t speak English don’t waste their time with the tool highlighted below.

What I’m going to show here isn’t a conventional global gateway because Lululemon supports only an English-language website. But I would suspect that a fair number of international web users may think it will take them to a localized website. The flag, I think, is part of the problem. A user could see the flag and think that this is a global gateway he or she must navigate.

But it’s not an easy gateway to navigate — it’s frustratingly open ended. The gateway link is located well down the home page — not quite in the footer but close:

lululemon_gateway

Clicking on the country name brings up the “Type Your Country” input box.

Here’s where things get interesting.

If I enter “China” I find that my country is supported. This is a fine if I’m an English speaker in China.

lululemon_gateway2

But what if I enter Chinese text? This is what I see:

lululemon_gateway4

Now one could argue that by only supporting Latin text input you’re doing a better job of managing language expectations because there is no translation of text available. Nevertheless, a basic text menu of supported countries would be a better solution than this open-ended input form — and certainly a less resource-intensive approach.

This gateway reminds me of the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer plays the Moviefone guy:

On a very positive note, the website uses geolocation to guest the user’s preferred target country. Shown here is the message that a user in Germany sees:

lululemon_geo

It’s in English, naturally, so I’m not sure all users will find this approach user friendly.

But, like I said, this is a first step toward going global.

For more on taking your website global, check out Geolocation for Global Success.