The Chinese Typewriter

I recently read The Chinese Typewriter by Thomas S. Mullaney.

I love typewriters and languages, so this book was a sure thing as my interests go.

And I learned a great deal.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway was the degree to which the Chinese language was viewed as inferior (not just outside of China but also within) simply because the many thousands of characters weren’t easily accommodated onto a Western-designed keyboard.

It’s worth noting that the Internet itself was not designed to support Chinese characters either. IDNs are, at best, a hack and probably will be for the foreseeable future.

But it’s fascinating to see how the “standard” Western typewriter evolved and how it impacted typewriter innovations for supporting Chinese. Shown here is the Shu-style typewriter — a marvel to behold.

(Source: Huntington Library)

The conventional single shift keyboard that we use today was not the only keyboard available a hundred years ago. For instance, I have a typewriter that features a great many more keys (and no shift key).

Turns out that this typewriter was ideal for the Thai language, at least until the company that made this typewriter was bought out and the design laid to rest.

Progress we call it.

The author has a sequel in the works, I’m assuming it will be titled The Chinese Computer. And I can’t wait to read it.

The Chinese Typewriter by Thomas S. Mullaney.

PS: If you love typewriters, check out our line of Vintage Typewriter Notecards.

 

Is your vendor putting your international business in jeopardy?

You hire a vendor to conduct a global survey.

And let’s suppose this vendor refers to Taiwan as a country and the email goes out to people in China who believe differently, and they happen to be in a position to punish you by blocking your website within China.

This is roughly what happened with Marriott.

According to Skift it was indeed a vendor that led to this misstep. And the CEO, Arne Sorenson, has vowed to make sure it won’t happen again:

“We should have caught it, even though it was provided by a third party, and we didn’t catch it,” Sorenson said. “We moved quickly to fix that mistake and we are moving as quickly as we can to look at all of the stuff we’ve got exposed out there online to customers in China and customers around the world to make sure we are not making similar mistakes in the future.”

This is a lesson that all companies should take to heart. When you hire vendors to communicate with the world on your behalf — you have to audit their work just as closely as you would your own. Because at the end of the day it’s your brand name that will suffer.

Here we are, roughly six weeks later, and the Marriott website still appears to be blocked. Mistakes happen, but the more educated your marketing and web teams are to global and local regulatory and cultural issues, the fewer of these mistakes you will make.

Which leads me to a new report that we’ve just published: Web Globalization Bloopers & Blunders.

I’ve found over the years that it often helps to highlight the more common mistakes that organizations have made to help other organizations sidestep them. This report is included with the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card.

 

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

Marriott in China: Website still down two weeks later (and three takeaways)

The Marriott website was taken down in China and Taiwan on or around January 11th. You can read why here.

And here we are two weeks later and the websites are still blank — or nearly so. Here’s what I’m seeing at the .cn domain — appears to be a “maintenance” page:

Delta, Zara and Medtronic issued apologies for somewhat related infractions and are still doing business in China. So why did Marriott take such a hard hit?

Perhaps the survey they sent out that referred to Taiwan (and Hong Kong, Macau, etc) as countries went to some very high-level people within China’s government. Or there are other reasons that we may never know.

Regardless, the end result is financially painful and it underscores a few key lessons for companies doing business in China:

You may not agree with the rules, but rules are rules. I seem to remember this line from childhood — I have a feeling it was repeated to me quite a few times. Every company that does business in China (or any country) has to be play by that country’s rules. Of course, there are also the rules of one’s home country and this is where things can get complex.

Online travels agencies (OTAs) and other partners are particularly valuable as fallback channels. Based on some cursory searching, Marriott is still doing business in China through OTAs. So even though hotels and other hospitality companies may not love relying on OTAs for revenues, these partners certainly come in handy in moments such as these.

If your organization hasn’t conducted a China compliance audit by now, what are you waiting for? I’m working on the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card right now and have documented a number websites that could be shut down or blocked by China right now. This is serious.

Links:

 

 

Can displaying the Taiwan flag get your website shut down in China?

The short answer: It depends.

The context of how you display this flag can make all the difference; for example, do you display the flag on a global gateway with text that reads Select Country or Select Country/Region?

This may seem like a trivial distinction, but Select Country could cost your company millions in lost revenues if China cracks down the way it recently cracked down on Marriott — whose website is currently taking a forced time out.

Now, as I’ve noted earlier, Marriott did not display the Taiwan flag on its global gateway; this problem stemmed from a customer questionnaire that referred to Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau as countries. I would also not be surprised if this questionnaire was created by a third-party vendor. But the reason how it happened isn’t that important now; what’s important is ensuring that these mistakes don’t repeat — or, better yet, never happen in the first place.

Marriott was not alone. Medtronic, Delta and Zara were forced to apologize for making variations of this mistake, which include referring to Taiwan as a country on the global gateway.

Says this Reuters article:

The apparent intensification of efforts to police how foreign businesses refer to Chinese-claimed territories – even if only in pull-down menus – underscores just how sensitive the issue of sovereignty has become in a China that is increasingly emboldened on the international stage.

The involvement of more than one Chinese authority in rebuking businesses across different industries suggested possible coordination at a high level of government.

So what should you do to avoid a similar fate?

My recommendation:
If your global gateway is built around using flags, now is the time to leave them behind
. I’ve written extensively about the many challenges and risks of using flags — on this blog, in many editions of the Report Card and in my newest book.

The rewards of using flags simply do not outweigh the risks.

And I’ve worked with a few dozens companies that have since redesigned their global gateways to be more geopolitically neutral.  Another upside is that these resulting global gateways are typically more efficient — both in page display time as well as in maintenance.

But as I write this post I know a number of multinationals — all Fortune 100 — that currently display the Taiwan flag on their global gateways. And the context of a few of them most clearly send a Select Country message — which is a message no company wants to be sending right now.

If you need me to help you make the case for an immediate global gateway redesign and/or internal audit, contact me; I can bundle this in with the forthcoming 2018 Report Card.