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Forget it, Jake. It’s China.

A timely article in The Wall Street Journal (that I only recently got around to reading): “The future’s not here.” American business people once saw China as dynamic, exciting and wide open. Not anymore.

To which I ask: When was China ever “wide open?”

An excerpt:

For years, American entrepreneurs saw a place in which they would start tech businesses, build restaurant chains and manage factories, making potentially vast sums in an exciting, newly dynamic economy. Many mastered Mandarin, hired and trained thousands in China, bought houses, met their spouses and raised bilingual children.

Now disillusion has set in, fed by soaring costs, creeping taxation, tightening political control and capricious regulation that makes it ever tougher to maneuver the market and fend off new domestic competitors. All these signal to expat business owners their best days were in the past.

Let’s not blame the recent trade and tariff issues. China is a ruthlessly competitive market that, like so many countries, tilts the playing field in favor of its home-grown companies. And intellectual property is (to put it mildly) not well protected. I remember when Bill Gates traveled to China years ago to complain about the epic levels of piracy of the Windows OS (at the time, Windows was the leading operating system in China and yet Microsoft saw little in the way of revenues).

Other companies that have struggled in China include Cisco, Amazon and WalMart. And let’s not overlook the fact that Google and Facebook are still desperately trying to squeeze their way in without selling their souls (and are close to doing just that).

One thing I have been telling companies in the early stages of going global for more than a decade now — if China is your first overseas market, perhaps you should select another. Going global is difficult, no matter what country or culture you target. But add in one of the most heavily and capriciously regulated intranets (China’s Internet is in truth an intranet) and you face a very steep hill to climb. That’s not to say you shouldn’t target China, but go into it with eyes open and a long-term game plan.

And, frankly, that’s true for any market. Every new market is a new frontier — with new rules, cultures, competitors. The experience of going global can be equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. But it is most definitely not boring!

Speaking of… I’m now working on the next edition of the Web Globalization Report Card. Lots of exciting new developments which I will write about in the weeks and months ahead.

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A More Responsive Google Translate

Google Translate is the world’s most popular translation tool. The company says it now translates 30 trillion sentences a year across 103 languages.

The key data point here is the 103 languages. No other free translation tool comes close to this range of languages. And while the quality across the lesser-used languages is quite uneven, to put it kindly, Google Translate is still the only game in town. Which means some translation is far better, even poor quality, than none at all.

Last week, Google Translate debuted an upgraded design that is now fully responsive. Here is the new interface:

Google Translate: November 2018

And the previous interface:

Google Translate: July 2018

The functionality remains the same, but I appreciate the more prominent “detect language” selector on the text input side. Google pioneered browser-based language detection a decade ago and it is wise to call attention to this powerful feature. Many users assume that they must need to know the source language before taking advantage of Google Translate.

Also nice to see is increased default sizes of the target languages on this menu:

Target language menu

One recommendation I would make — adding a generic globe icon above this menu of languages. Perhaps the downward arrow is sufficient, but I would rather use an icon that speaks across all languages.

Now, for those of you wondering about this list of languages — as in Why are they all in English? — you ask a great question. As I note in my book and reports, you want your global gateway to be globally agnostic, so each language should be presented in its native language. But that’s the rule for a global gateway. What we have here is not a global gateway, but a localized user interface — localized into English.

If I change my web browser setting to Spanish, I will be greeted with this interface:

Spanish-language interface: Target language menu

Google Translate morphs into Google Traductor

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Peak flag: The decline of flags on websites has begun

I’m pleased to say that, based on the websites I study regularly, we’ve reached “peak flag.” In other words, at a high level, companies are now beginning to move away from using flags on their websites within their global gateways.

This is a good thing.

On a personal level, I love flags. But from a usability perspective, flags often cause more problems than they solve.

Companies that have stopped using flags on their websites over the years include:

  • Delta Airlines
  • General Electric
  • Google
  • Marriott
  • Siemens

To name just a few.

Apple global gateway

And, yes, I’m well aware that Apple still uses flags. I do believe that Apple will drop flags as the risks far outweigh the rewards.

To learn 10 reasons why you should remove flags from your website, check out my report FLAG FREE, which is also included with the Web Globalization Report Card.

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Verisign launches Hebrew .com domain

Verisign has owned rights to the .com domain for many years, and profited enormously. So it’s no surprise that the company has been eager to see continued profits from language/script-specific equivalents of .com.

So it has recently pushed ahead with the Hebrew .com, which reads קום.

Verisign notes in CircleID:

Notably, a Verisign survey conducted in Israel in September 2017, comprised of 150 decision makers in small and medium-sized businesses with up to 30 employees, found that 69 percent of respondents would register a domain name that’s fully in Hebrew if they could.

But Domain Name Wire is not so bullish about this domain:

That hasn’t panned out so far. Verisign has launched three of these domains. .コム in Japanese and .닷컴 in Korean have fewer than 7,000 registrations each. The Korean .net transliteration, .닷넷, has even fewer registrations.

The key words here are “so far.” We’re still in the early days of non-Latin domains. I remain bullish on them. One of the main obstacles, I believe, have been the success of mobile apps that have usurped domains entirely. But walled gardens such as Facebook may not be losing their appeal in the years ahead, which would put the spotlight back on localized domains.

For more about IDNs, check out the latest edition of our map.