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.

Vote, vota, bumoto…

“Los Angeles County is urging its citizens to vote, vota, bumoto or hay bo phieu. In fact, residents there will have seven languages to choose from when they cast their ballots on Election Day: English, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.”

Boy is this a contentious issue these days – whether or not to translate ballots. According to this Newsday article Los Angeles requires translation of ballots into seven languages, although most places don’t make it past two.

A lot of people would rather that there be no translation of ballots, which, the thinking goes, would force non-English speakers to learn the language. But I don’t agree. Even if you desperately want to learn a new language, getting to fluency takes years of hard work, and even then you find yourself missing out on many subtleties. But I’m hopeful that computer-based balloting will provide the solution to this problem – eliminating the need to print translated ballots while providing the ability to present ballots in any number of languages. At least that’s my hope…

Only Just Getting Started

Just when you begin to think that the Internet has become a way of life for the planet, you read a few Internet usage stats from Nua. According to the folks at Nua, just less than 10% of the world’s population has access to the Internet.

“At the end of May 2002, approximately 580.78 million people around the world had access to the Net, up from 407.1 million in December 2000.”

The Internet is still very much a country club with restricted membership.

And while this is sad, I’m excited to see that the makeup of the membership is changing. For starters, Americans aren’t the majority any longer:

“For the first time ever, Europe has the highest number of people with access to the Internet. There are now 185.83 million Europeans online, compared to 182.3 million in the US and Canada and 167.86 million in Asia/Pacific.”

For more stats, click here.