Web Globalization 2010: How Many Languages is Enough?

Languages are a means to an end, and in web globalization, languages help you expand your global reach.

And global reach doesn’t always mean expanding beyond borders, it could also mean expanding within borders — consider Spanish for the US (a trend that continues to tick upward).

That said, any executive with global aspirations is sure to wonder at one point or another: How many languages is  enough?

It must seem that every year, the definition of “enough” inches upward.

The Web Globalization Report Card proves this to be true.

In 2003, when we began the Report Card, 10 languages was widely considered  enough for a global web site.

Today, that baseline is 20+ languages.

As you can see below, the number of languages that companies support has steadily grown over the years. In the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card — in which we tabulated the languages of 225 global web sites across 21 industries — the average was 22 languages.

I’m not suggesting that companies add languages for the sake of adding languages.

But I do suggest that companies conduct regular “audits” of their own language mix, the languages supported by the competition, and the languages supported by the ecosystem as a whole.

I’d prefer to be the first company within a given industry to support a new language than the last. Only by keeping a close eye on languages and the competition can you achieve this goal.

Consider Russian. Five years ago, fewer than 40% of the major global web sites supported this language. At that point in time, a company might not have felt any pressure to localize for Russia simply because few other companies did so. Today, seven out of 10 companies now support Russian, which means that companies that hope to do business in Russia and do not support Russian are now in the minority.

Now let’s look at three companies in more detail: NIVEA, Starbucks, and Genzyme.

Each of these companies occupies a different industry sector and yet all three continue to add languages, each at its own pace.

For more information on language trends and much more, check out the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card.

When will the “age gateway” retire?

Smashing Magazine has an entertaining piece on the Unusable and Superficial World of Beer and Alcohol Websites.

The “age gateway” was a topic I wrote about a year ago and I’m glad to see others chime in on the sheer futility and stupidity of the device.

I mean, really, does this little gateway really keep out the underage?

coors-gateway

Or does it simply load up a database with millions of people born on 1/1/>21 years?

I don’t believe there was any Supreme Court ruling that mandated age gateways, was there?

No. I think it was lawyers at one or two large breweries that got this thing started. And the rest of the alcohol producers just followed along. Better to be safe than sorry right?

That is, until one of the breweries removes the gateway — or vastly simplifies it — and doesn’t get sued.

And, more important, get significantly higher numbers of repeat visitors.

I’m already seeing signs of alcohol producers simplifying the gateway. As the Smashing Magazine article notes, there is the age gateway of Christiania Vodka which simply asks Are you over 21 years of age?

Users click Yes or No.

Simple.

And sure to be copied by others.

The lesson here is to be careful what “standard” design elements and gateways you choose to replicate on your site. There are design standards of course, such as the ubiquitous shopping cart icon, which we can safely assume that consumers are well accustomed to using. But not all design elements should be replicated. Just because the major breweries all require users to painstakingly enter their dates of birth does not mean this is a best practice.

I predict that a year from now we’ll see a dramatic shift towards the more user-friendly Yes/No model demonstrated by Christiania Vodka.

Best practices sometimes emerge from the fringes. I’ve seen similar trends in web globalization. Google, for example, was the first company to openly solicit volunteers to help it localize its web site — way back in 2002. Today, it’s safe to say that translation crowdsourcing has gone mainstream.

The 2010 Web Globalization Report Card is now in development. It will be interesting to see what new trends — both good and bad — have emerged and are still emerging.

Global by Design now in 25 languages

I read about a startup (via Techcrunch) recently called mloovi. The service leverages Google Translate to provide real-time translations of your blog feed. I’ve installed the widget over on the right and would love to know what people think.

My biggest concern is slow-loading Web pages. And, yes, I know the quality of the translation will leave plenty to be desired, but what I really like about the widget are the little RSS feed buttons. Just click the button and you can have translated feeds delivered to whatever feed reader you use.

What I don’t understand is the significance of the name “mloovi.” Am I missing something?