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.

The globe icon has gone mainstream in global gateways

As readers of this blog know well, I’ve been advocating for the generic globe icon for use in the global gateway for some time. 

I first called for the globe icon way back in 2004. So I suppose it helps to be patient and persistent!

I noted last year that Amazon is now onboard with the globe icon.

And here are a few additional websites that now use the globe icon either to indicate language, locale, or both.

Adobe:

 

Audubon Society:

Bristol-Myers Squibb:

Ford:

Capital One:

NOTE: For Ford and Capital One I recommend the more generic icon used by Audubon and BMS. But they’re both off to a strong start.

Does your website now use a globe icon for its global gateway?

If so, let me know.

And for the latest on global navigation best practices, check out the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card.

A (free) font to celebrate Lithuanian independence

As a font geek, I loved this promotion courtesy of the Republic of Lithuania to develop a font that draws on the signatures from the Act of Independence of Lithuania. You can even add your signature to mark the centenary of independence:

The font was created by FOLK and Eimantas Paškonis.

The font is free to download and includes 450 Latin, Lithuanian and German characters. You can learn more and download here.

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.

 

Apple adds geolocation to improve its global gateway strategy

Apple has redesigned its website many times over the past decade but one thing has remained largely unchanged — its global gateway strategy.

Here’s a screen shot of the global gateway menu from back in 2010:

And here it is today:

But over the past few days Apple did something I’ve been waiting for them to do for some time — begin using geolocation.

Here’s how it works…

If you’re in the US and you try visiting the home page of, say, Apple France, at www.apple.fr, you see this message above the top menu:

The message gives you a shortcut back to the US (.com) website.

And if you’re in Japan and you visit www.apple.com, you see this message:

In this case, the user can go to the Japan home page with one click.

This is a step forward for Apple and I’m happy to see it.

But there are still flaws with the execution which could use improvement.

Beginning with the flags.

I don’t know why Apple clings to flags with such passion. I do believe Apple will drop flags eventually and I’m hoping the move towards geolocation portends bigger and better changes to come. Flags are completely unnecessary for this geo-header to be effective. Also, if you wish to select a different locale you will be bumped back to the array of flags on the global gateway menu. As a general rule, flags should not be used for navigational purposes.

Now let’s examine the message itself: Choose another country to see content specific to your location and shop online. 

The first issue is the absence of “or region” in this sentence. The intention here is not to be verbose but to help Apple avoid any geopolitical issues, particularly given the recent issues that American multinationals have been having with China. Better yet, perhaps the text can be rewritten so “or region” isn’t even necessary. How about asking if the visitor would like to visit a more local website.

Finally, the mixture of pull-down menu with the “Continue” button is a bit cumbersome. Since the pull-down menu lists only two options I’m confident there is a better UI that would save the visitor a click.

Issues aside, I am happy to see Apple moving ahead with geolocation. I can imagine this was not an easy decision. After all, Apple is very sensitive to user privacy and this type of implementation will naturally lead some visitors to wonder how Apple knows where they are. But this is not an invasion of privacy; this is a step towards providing a better experience.

I also believe this change is a sign of a larger shift in website strategy, a more decentralized model, which I will be talking about later this year.

PS:  To learn more about global gateway best practices, check out the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card and The Art of the Global Gateway.