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:
To name just a few.
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.
Wondering what the colors of a flag actually represent?
Flag Stories includes an impressive collection, dissection and compilation of the world’s flags into a range of infographics. For instance, you’ll get a see a visual compilation of the elements shared by the world’s flags, as well as common colors. This site underscores what I’ve been saying for quite some time — that global gateway menus that rely on flags do not improve usability because so many flags appear similar to one another.
You’ll also learn what the colors themselves symbolize:
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.
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.
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.
If you are flying the Taiwan flag on your website, consider yourself warned.
As I’ve written many times over the past year, China is paying close attention to how multinationals refer to Taiwan on their websites, not just textually but visually. And this includes the global gateway.
But the fact is, flags are completely unnecessary in global gateways — not just the Taiwan flag but any flag. And now is a very good time to extricate flags from your website.
Flag free means frustration free.
I’ve published a new report that details the many reasons for removing flags from your website; it also includes examples of websites that have gone flag free, including Costco, Google, Sanofi and Siemens.
As readers of this blog well know, I often refer to China and Taiwan when making the case for avoiding the use of flags on a global gateway. There are many others reasons, of course, but geopolitical issues have become more acute lately.
I could also point to the Russia and Kosovo as another case study for avoiding the use fo flags. As this New York Times article notes Kosovo, despite being a FIFA member, cannot fly its flag at World Cup stadiums:
The flag — which depicts a gold map of Kosovo under six white stars on a blue background — is one of more than two dozen barred from World Cup stadiums by tournament organizers.
Here’s a visual of the flags not allowed into the stadiums:
While most countries acknowledge Kosovo and its flag, Russia does not. And because this World Cup is hosted by Russia, well, so it goes.
Which brings me back to your global gateway.
Your global gateway is a tool for helping visitors find (or change) their locale setting, not a geopolitical statement.
It’s been a month since women have been legally allowed to drive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and I wanted to get a sense for how this massive new audience of drivers was being welcomed by the world’s automakers.
And, so far, I’d say that most global automakers are treading slowly, too slowly, in welcoming their new customers.
There were two notable standouts, however, that I want to mention: Ford and Audio.
As a bit of background, more than half of the websites I benchmark for the annual Report Card now support Arabic. And most of the automakers studied support partially or largely localized websites for Saudi Arabia.
In English, the headline reads: You Drive in Front. Welcome to the Driver’s Seat.
And when you click on the main link you’ll see this visual:
Audi also leads with a bold, welcoming message: Sometimes history is written. This time, it is driven.
Clicking on the main link takes you to a video that features a husband and wife leaving the house and getting into their Audi. But instead of the man getting into the driver’s seat, we see the woman taking the wheel. In most other regions of the world, this would not be an attention-grabbing video; but Saudi Arabia is not most other regions.
Audi also includes a link to a test drive request form, a very nice feature.
Beyond Ford and Audi, there are a handful of positive examples from other automakers responding to this doubling of potential drivers:
Volkswagen features a TV ad that focuses on female drivers, with one behind the driver’s seat.
Mercedes has a MercedesShe global promotional campaign that does a degree of localization for women in the Middle East, but not nearly enough in my opinion.
Subaru and Toyota have been active on social media in welcoming female drivers. Shown below are examples from Twitter and Instagram:
The automakers not mentioned here are not doing nearly enough to welcome their new customers (if anything at all) — and I suspect this is not going without notice. Web localization is about respect and respect is about languages, cultures, and people.
Mobile apps have also suffered from a serious case of progressive bloat.
Consider that 50 megabyte wireless plan will cost a Brazilian more than 30 hours of minimum-wage work to afford. And let’s suppose your mobile app weighs 80 MB, which is what Instagram comes in at on iOS. Do you really want your customers to blow through their data plans simply because you did not have a weight limit when you began creating your app for emerging markets?
It’s not uncommon for users in markets where wireless costs are expensive to switch their phones off whenever possible. And seek out free wifi networks.
And it’s also no surprise that Instagram, following in Facebook’s well-worn path of world domination, has launched a “lite” app.
Uber also now has a lite app, which is comparatively still overweight, at 3MB. The app was designed in India and, like the Facebook apps, is designed for Android.
Android is key here because it is the dominant OS of emerging markets and slower wireless networks. It’s important to stress that designing a lightweight app is step one. Equally important is helping users make the most of their limited (and often expensive) wireless connections. That’s why maps on Uber Lite are deactivated by default.
For the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card, website weight is one of the many metrics used when benchmarking websites. Which website comes in lightest overall? Wikipedia.
One reason for this — not just a strict focus on text and limited bells and whistles. But also no tracking codes. And no ads.
It’s more than a hashtag; it’s a social movement. And it’s growing.
A movement among Indian consumers to force the vendors who depend on their business to actually support their native languages.
As this Times of Indiaarticle notes: From ATMs to deposit slips, withdrawal challans and call centres, most public and private banks feel that service in Hindi and English should suffice their customer base –– Indians who converse in 22 major languages and 720 dialects.
This article is specific to the banking industry, but it’s safe to say that this is the beginning of something much bigger. Linguistically, India has been poorly served by websites.
As I noted in the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card, only 7% of the global websites studied support Hindi, followed by Urdu and Tamil. According to research conducted by Nielsen in 2017, 68% of Indian internet users consider local-language content to be more reliable than English. Facebook certainly understands this; Facebook supports more than half of India’s official languages. And it’s no surprise that Facebook now has more users in India than in the US.
Fortunately, some Indian banks are now becoming more multilingual. The Times of India article notes:
Private banks such as ICICI Bank, Axis Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank are trying to be more multi-lingual in their digital banking strategy. “For instance, the Kotak Bharat app is aimed at financial inclusion. Users can transfer money, recharge their mobile, buy insurance, etc in Hindi, English, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil or Kannada. We plan to expand the app to handle other regional languages,” says Deepak Sharma, chief digital officer at Kotak Mahindra Bank.
And as you can see by this excerpt from my newly updated IDN poster, India represents a significant diversity of languages and scripts:
Languages are more than a means to an end; they are a sign of respect.
And companies that invest in languages are not only investing in their customers but investing in their own future.