The next Internet revolution will not be in English

taking .com global  IDNs

Imagine if, every time you wanted to visit a website, you were expected to type in letters from a foreign language, or worse, an entirely foreign script, such as Arabic, Cyrillic, or Chinese.

For more than a billion people, this is how they experience the Internet today.

The Internet was designed to be global, but it was not designed to be multilingual. For decades, this limitation was most evident in website and email addresses, which permitted only a small set of Latin characters.

Fortunately, over the past decade much work has been done to allow website addresses to support non-Latin characters, referred to as internationalized domain names (IDNs). More than 30 countries, ranging from Saudi Arabia to South Korea, now support country code domains in their native scripts.

For example, Russians no longer have to register a domain using the Latin (.ru) country code and may instead use the Cyrillic equivalent .Рф. And evidence of these new URLs are becoming more visible. Kremlin’s new Cyrillic URL is http://президент.рф. The leading Russian search engine Yandex can be located at http://Яндекс.рф, and the address of Russia’s largest mobile carrier is http://МТС.рф. These addresses are fully functional, and modern web browsers support them.

But what about a local-language equivalent of .com?

ICANN, the organization that manages the domain name system, is in the process of allowing not only local-language equivalents of .com, but an entirely new wave of top-level domains known as generic TLDs (gTLDs). More than a thousand applications have already been filed for these new domains, ranging from .apple (guess who applied for this one) to .book (yes, Amazon is hot for this domain, among others).

Much controversy has erupted over the value or need for all these new domains. Many people claim that .com is good enough, like Esther Dyson, who says “You are creating a business, like derivatives on Wall Street, that has no value.”

Dyson, I would assume, is speaking more about the introduction of Latin-based domain names, and I  understand where she’s coming from. But her sentiment implies that the Internet naming system is largely fine as is.

She is wrong.

For more than a billion web users, .com has always been a foreign address.

Local-language domain names do have value. And they will improve the usability of the Internet.

VeriSign, the registry that manages .com, is now pursuing a Russian transliteration: .ком, as well as variations in Chinese and Hindi.

And a number of companies have applied for local-language equivalents of their brand names. Amazon has applied for the Japanese version of its name (アマゾン), and Philips has applied for the Chinese-language equivalent of its name (飞利浦). Both names were recently approved by ICANN and could be functional by the end of this year. You can peruse all gTLD applications and their status here.

The fact is, IDNs are here, and many more are coming. And the regions these IDNs span constitute more than 2.5 billion people, most of whom do not speak English as a native language. The regions also represent where most of the growth in Internet usage will occur over the next decade.

We’re inching closer to a linguistically local Internet, in which people no longer have to leave their native languages to get where they want to go.

This is a positive development for making the Internet truly accessible to the world.

Taking the Great American Pastime Global

MLB Japan logo

I was raised a Cardinals fan. But I don’t live in St. Louis anymore so I must follow the team virtually.

Fortunately there’s the MLB mobile app.

MLB mobile app

Now I can listen to the games — and Mike Shannon — in real time.

And I’m not alone. the MLB mobile app has been hugely popular.

In this All Things D interview, Bow Bowman, who runs digital operations for Major League Baseball, talked about taking its brand and digital properties global.

At about the 16 minute mark (see embed below) Bob mentions that non-US users of the MLB apps make up about 10% of all users, which was more than I expected. Most of the usage is in Asia (Korea, Taiwan, Japan) with the rest located in the Caribbean.

I took a brief tour of the non-US MLB websites.

If you visit MLB.com, you’ll see links to the localized websites right above the main logo — easy to find.

MLB global gateway

Here is the home page of MLB Taiwan, note the smart use of the .tw country code:

MLB Taiwan

Also note that the team names have also been translated.

I believe the Japan website is the result of a joint arrangement, hence the wildly different design.

MLB Japan

But I love seeing the .jp country code merged into the logo.

Here’s the full All Things D interview:

PS: I’m also the proud publisher of a book that has helped many MLB players improve their game: Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game—in Baseball and in Life.

 

 

Chevrolet wants a consistent global brand — hopefully a consistent website will follow

Interesting article in the WSJ (sub. required) about Alan Batey, the new global brand chief of Chevrolet.

From the article:

Mr. Batey says he wants to unify the brand’s strategy. “We used to operate regionally with each country or local area doing their own thing,” Mr. Batey said. “That’s over. From now on we will operate as one.”

Among the changes: Mr. Batey this year introduced Chevrolet’s first global advertising slogan “Find New Roads,” due to its ease in translation. The Chevrolet design team, at 10 different studios from around the world, also now meet daily via virtual reality screens and conference calls to shape future Chevrolet vehicles.

While the article is primarily about branding issues globally, I can vouch for the fact that there is little global consistency in the Chevrolet (or GM) websites.

Based on the 2013 Report Card, the Chevrolet website was ranked #89 out of 150 websites, due in large part to lack of any one global design template. And given that Chevrolet supports more than 34 languages, a global template is not only essential to global branding but global efficiency.

Here is the Chevrolet.com home page:

Chevrolet.com US

And the China home page:

Chevrolet China

China is an extreme example.

The European sites are visually more in line with Chevy.com, though the underlying template is  quite a bit different.

Here is Germany:

Chevrolet Germany home page

Global inconsistency is not a challenge unique to Chevy. Most automotive websites struggle with managing local websites effectively, particularly companies like Toyota and Honda. The top three automotive websites — in terms of global consistency — are BMW, Mini, and Audi.

You can read more in our Automotive Report.

Chevy Find New Roads

Regarding the global slogan — Find New Roads — I’m not sure I agree that companies need to select slogans that can be translated easily. After all, Nike’s Just Do It slogan was near-impossible to faithfully translate and that didn’t stop the company from using it globally.

My recommendation is to avoid a global slogan altogether.

What is Starbucks’ global slogan? What is Apple’s global slogan? I don’t believe either company has one.

Let your products and services be your slogan. And put the money saved into that global website redesign.