Language is Power; Power is Language

According to a Sept. 28th article in the Economist, tensions between French and Dutch speakers in Belgium has been flaring up. Apparently, in the region around Brussels, French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemings live side by side. Dutch has long been the official language of the region despite the fact that most residents now speak French. So if you go to a town meeting, you have to speak Dutch and the officials have to speak Dutch, even if you can’t speak Dutch. Needless to say, translators are doing a nice business and the Walloons aren’t too happy about matters.

This struggle is not unique to Belgium. There are parts of the U.S. where Spanish speakers are the majority and yet the laws mandate the use of English. Language is power and if you don’t speak a certain language, you end up feeling powerless. But I don’t think the either/or solution works for either side.

Of Flags and Gateways

When designing a global gateway – you generally want to avoid flags. After all, what flag would you use to represent Spanish? And what language would the flag for Switzerland indicate – a country with four official languages?

Well, for every rule there is an exception to it. The Smart Car site (www.smart.com) uses flags, but also includes language-specific sub-links, such as “d” for German and “e” for English.

smart_gateway.gif

While I prefer the way Ikea handles countries and languages better, I do like to look at this gateway. For as much as I criticize the use of flags, I do enjoy looking at them.

Emerging Markets and Emerging Web Sites

The computer industry is in a slump. People aren’t upgrading their computers every 18 months and companies like Dell and Intel are rightly worried. Yet there is still hope to be had in “emerging markets.” Here’s what the president of Intel recently told the NY Times:

“We believe that 50 percent of all the incremental units sold in the next five years will come from these markets,” he said. There are now about 500 million personal computers in the world, he said, and with the help of the emerging markets the industry, over a long period, could still expect to see double-digit growth outside the industrial world.”

Now let’s take a look at Intel’s Web site and see how well it addresses these emerging markets. Here is the global gateway:

intel_gateway.gif

It’s got about 36 “worldwide sites” from which to choose. And while this certainly sounds like a great many sites, if Intel’s goal is to target emerging markets, it still has a long way to go. There are only three countries from Africa/Middle East represented and only seven from all of Latin America. Where’s Ecuador, Nigeria, Slovakia?

Emerging markets do indeed promise significant growth opportunities, but too often I find that major companies don’t invest enough resources in trying to reach these markets. Small countries don’t promise major returns on investment so it’s always more difficult ot justify Web localization costs. Nevertheless, to overlook a market in this economy is to overlook short-term sales and long-term success. As for Intel, they have indeed invested significantly in Web globalization, yet in many ways they’ve only just begun.

Accepting payment accross borders

Accepting payments in other currencies is a never-ending headache for companies, particularly small businesses. And although credit cards provide a nice alternative, many Europeans have yet to embrace them.

So PayPal will soon allow you to transfer money in Euros, Canadian dollars — even Yen. You can read more here.