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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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What’s the world’s most multilingual website? (2018 update)

A few months ago, I wrote an essay for Multilingual in which I noted that the world’s most multilingual website isn’t Google or Facebook or even Wikipedia.

It is the website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As I noted in the essay:

The JW.org website supports more than 675 written languages. And it doesn’t stop at written languages; it also supports more than 90 different sign languages as well as downloadable PDFs in languages ranging from Adyghe to Zazaki, for a total of 941 languages.

Apple, by comparison, supports a mere 34 languages. And Amazon, the company now synonymous with world domination, supports just 15 languages. Based on my studies, the world’s leading brands support an average of 31 languages, adding roughly one new language per year.

Religious leaders understand well the power of language. And so do the tech leaders. Sadly, too many other business leaders have not yet come to this realization.

Here are the top 10 most multilingual websites from the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card:

 

Notice how precipitously the language curve drops; it plateaus at roughly 40 languages for companies such as Audi, IKEA3M, Nikon and Cisco. And yet 40 languages is still a significant accomplishment for most organizations. The average number of languages, among the leading global brands, is just 32 languages.

The next great language boom will center around India, but this will take time as even companies such as Amazon and IKEA have been resistant to fully invest in the many official languages of this country.

To learn more about the language leaders, download a free sample of the Web Globalization Report Card.

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Amazon Translate joins the machine translation crowd

Amazon announced earlier this week that it had made its home-grown Amazon Translate service generally available.

Like other Amazon Web Services (AWS), you can leverage the service across websites, apps, as well as text to speech. I should stress that this is a “neural” machine translation service — which has proven surprisingly effective at getting more natural sounding over time. Google and others are also investing heavily in neural MT.

And you can give it a free test drive; according to AWS, the “first The first 2 million characters in each monthly cycle will be free for the first 12 months starting the day you first use the service.”

The major limitation right now languages:  It supports English into just six languages, which feels rather retro compared to MT services from SDL and Google. Google Translate, by comparison, is 12 years old and supports 100+ languages (of varying degrees of quality).

And more languages are coming. I can’t comment on the quality of the translation but would love to hear what others have experienced so far.

As I’ve noted in the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card, machine translation continues to gain fans among global brands — not just internally but externally. That is, visitors to websites can self-translate content themselves — a feature I have long recommended for a number of reasons.

So it’s great to see another machine translation service available at scale for organizations of all sizes.

PS: Interesting to see a recommendation from Lionbridge on the home page — a happy Amazon Translate client.

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The top 25 websites from the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card

I’m excited to announce the publication of The 2018 Web Globalization Report Card. This is the most ambitious report I’ve written so far and it sheds light on a number of new and established best practices in website globalization.

First, here are the top-scoring websites from the report:

For regular readers of this blog, you’ll notice that Google was unseated this year by Wikipedia. Wikipedia, with support for an amazing 298 languages, made a positive improvement to global navigation over the past year that pushed it into the top spot. And Wikipedia, due to the fact that it is completely user-supported, indicates that there is great demand for languages on the Internet — and very few companies have yet responded in kind.

Google could still stand to improve in global navigation, as could Facebook.

Other highlights from the top 25 list include:

  • Consumer goods companies such as Pampers and Nestlé are a positive sign that non-tech companies are making positive strides in improving their website globalization skills.
  • As a group, the top 25 websites support an average of more than 80 languages (up from 54 last year); but note that we added a few websites that made a big impact on that average.
  • Luxury brands such as Gucci and Ralph Lauren continue to lag in web globalization — from poor support for languages to inadequate localization.
  • The average number of languages supported by all 150 global brands is now 32.

The data underlying the Report Card is based on studying the leading global brands and world’s largest companies — 150 companies across more than 20 industry sectors. I began tracking many of the companies included in this report more than a decade ago and am happy to share insights into what works and what doesn’t.  

I’ll have much more to share in the weeks and months ahead. If you have any questions about the report, please let me know.

Congratulations to the top 25 companies and to the people within these companies who have long championed web globalization.

The 2018 Web Globalization Report Card