Web globalization predictions for 2014

Globe

I’m optimistic about the year ahead.

I base this optimism in part on discussions I’ve had this year with dozens of marketing and web teams across about ten countries. While every company has its own unique worldview and challenges, a number of patterns have emerged. And I can tell you that there is a great deal of enthusiasm for web globalization — backed by C-level investments.

And this enthusiasm is not simply driven by China any longer — which is a healthy thing to see. Executives have a more realistic and sober view of China, and this has resulted in smarter and longer-term planning and investments. That’s not to say China won’t continue to dominate the headlines in 2014, as it most certainly will. But companies are now taking a closer look at countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Turkey, India, and much of the Middle East.

As I look ahead, here are a few other trends I see emerging in the year ahead:

  • Machine translation (MT) goes mainstream. I’ll have much more to say about this in future (you can subscribe to updates on the right) but suffice it to say, MT is not just for customer support anymore. Companies are looking to use MT as a competitive differentiator, and we’re going to see more real-world examples on customer-facing websites. And customers around the world will love it. (And, no, I’m suggesting that human translators are in any danger of losing their jobs; quite the opposite!)
  • Responsive global websites also go mainstream. True, there are valid reasons for NOT embracing responsive websites, but for most companies, this is a clear path forward. It helps manage the chaos internally and frees up resources for mobile apps — which are becoming, for some of us, more important than the website itself.
  • Language pullback. What? Companies are going to drop languages? That’s right. Some that I’ve spoken to already have dropped a language or two, and others are considering following along. I’m never a fan of dropping languages for budgetary reasons, as this is almost always a shortsighted decision, but it’s a fact of life as companies learn to align their language strategies with their budgets. In the end, pullbacks are far from ideal but probably a sign that companies are no longer making blind assumptions that adding languages will automatically increased sales (this isn’t always the case). So even this trend, while minor, is ultimately going to be a positive one.
  • Privacy becomes a selling point. The “NSA-gate” scandal is only just beginning to be felt around the world. And the threat to American-based tech companies is very real. I will not be surprised if Google or Microsoft announces non-US hosted services (to bypass the NSA’s grip and attempt to rebuild trust with consumers). And there are already a number of startups emerging in various countries promising to keep user data safe from the “evil” American intelligence agencies. You know this is a serious issue when Apple and Google and Microsoft (and other tech companies) all agree on something.
  • A non-Latin gTLD awakens American companies. I’ve long written about why I think the Internet is still broken for non-English speakers. But now that ICANN is moving ahead with delegation of generic TLDs, I believe that one (or more) of these domains will act as a wake-up call to those companies that have long overlooked them — and I’m including a number of Silicon Valley software companies as well. I don’t want to predict what domain I think it will be (they are all available for you to see) — let me know if you have a candidate.
  • Apple drops flags from its global gateway. True, this is not my first prediction along these lines. But do I think 2014 will be the year. And this will make my life a bit easier because I won’t have to respond to any more “But Apple is using flags so why can’t we” questions.

So what do you think about the year ahead?

If you have any predictions to share, please let me know.

 

 

 

The next Internet revolution will not be in English

taking .com global  IDNs

Imagine if, every time you wanted to visit a website, you were expected to type in letters from a foreign language, or worse, an entirely foreign script, such as Arabic, Cyrillic, or Chinese.

For more than a billion people, this is how they experience the Internet today.

The Internet was designed to be global, but it was not designed to be multilingual. For decades, this limitation was most evident in website and email addresses, which permitted only a small set of Latin characters.

Fortunately, over the past decade much work has been done to allow website addresses to support non-Latin characters, referred to as internationalized domain names (IDNs). More than 30 countries, ranging from Saudi Arabia to South Korea, now support country code domains in their native scripts.

For example, Russians no longer have to register a domain using the Latin (.ru) country code and may instead use the Cyrillic equivalent .Рф. And evidence of these new URLs are becoming more visible. Kremlin’s new Cyrillic URL is http://президент.рф. The leading Russian search engine Yandex can be located at http://Яндекс.рф, and the address of Russia’s largest mobile carrier is http://МТС.рф. These addresses are fully functional, and modern web browsers support them.

But what about a local-language equivalent of .com?

ICANN, the organization that manages the domain name system, is in the process of allowing not only local-language equivalents of .com, but an entirely new wave of top-level domains known as generic TLDs (gTLDs). More than a thousand applications have already been filed for these new domains, ranging from .apple (guess who applied for this one) to .book (yes, Amazon is hot for this domain, among others).

Much controversy has erupted over the value or need for all these new domains. Many people claim that .com is good enough, like Esther Dyson, who says “You are creating a business, like derivatives on Wall Street, that has no value.”

Dyson, I would assume, is speaking more about the introduction of Latin-based domain names, and I  understand where she’s coming from. But her sentiment implies that the Internet naming system is largely fine as is.

She is wrong.

For more than a billion web users, .com has always been a foreign address.

Local-language domain names do have value. And they will improve the usability of the Internet.

VeriSign, the registry that manages .com, is now pursuing a Russian transliteration: .ком, as well as variations in Chinese and Hindi.

And a number of companies have applied for local-language equivalents of their brand names. Amazon has applied for the Japanese version of its name (アマゾン), and Philips has applied for the Chinese-language equivalent of its name (飞利浦). Both names were recently approved by ICANN and could be functional by the end of this year. You can peruse all gTLD applications and their status here.

The fact is, IDNs are here, and many more are coming. And the regions these IDNs span constitute more than 2.5 billion people, most of whom do not speak English as a native language. The regions also represent where most of the growth in Internet usage will occur over the next decade.

We’re inching closer to a linguistically local Internet, in which people no longer have to leave their native languages to get where they want to go.

This is a positive development for making the Internet truly accessible to the world.