The “age gateway” comes of age

For years I’ve been preaching the importance of the “global gateway” — the elements that Web sites use to seamlessly direct Web users to their localized Web sites and content, such as this splash global gateway:

But there is a different type of gateway out there that is worth mentioning — a gateway unique to the Web sites of alcoholic beverages: the age gateway.

Here is the age gateway of Budweiser:

Budweiser age gateway

The age gateway has to be one of the most useless gateways ever devised — and certainly one of the most frustrating to use.

For starters, every beer maker seems to have its own take on how best to design the gateway. The gateways are usually Flash-based and typically difficult to use. What I end up doing is simply entering 01/01/1971 just to get through it as quickly as possible.

I would predict that the logs of Budweiser feature an inordinately high number of people born on the first day of the year.

But the reason why I’m mentioning the age gateway here is two-fold. In the case of Budweiser (and most competitive Web sites), the age gateway comes before the global gateway.

Once you get past the “virtual bouncer” and into the Budweiser site, in order to find your specific country or language Web site, you must do a bit of searching. Here is the buried link:

This link takes you to this page:

According to Budweiser, “great taste knows no boundaries.” But great global design apparently does run up against a few boundaries. For a non-English speaker, getting to this gateway is no trivial task.

What’s the lesson here?

Don’t place the age gateway before the global gateway.

Let the Web user find his or her localized Web site before you present your virtual bouncer. This is particularly important because dates are not presented in the same format in all countries. By directing the user to his or her local site first, you can then present your age gateway in the correct date format.

And, as my brother pointed out, different countries have different drinking ages — yet another reason to put the global gateway before the age gateway.

Now for the second point I wanted to make regarding age gateways.

Not long ago I came across a new product known as the Beertender. It’s a sort of mini-keg fridge designed specifically for Heineken.

Take a moment to visit www.beertender.com and you’ll first encounter this splash global gateway:

It is not until you select a country that you arrive at an age gateway.To my knowledge, Heineken is the first company to place its global gateway ahead of the age gateway!

If you select the French site, you’ll arrive at a very simple yes/no age gateway:

But because American lawyers are not as freewheeling as the French in regards to underage drinking, here is the American age gateway:

Beertender age gateway

But even here you’ll find that Beertender makes significant usability improvements. Instead of asking the user to input dates, you simply select the dates displayed on the screen. It’s remarkably faster to get through.

So it’s nice to see Beertender not only put its global gateway ahead of its age gateway, but also support localized and user-friendly age gateways. I hope the other beer makers of the world take notice.

Even the Vatican uses a splash global gateway

I took a moment to visit the Vatican recently at www.vatican.va.

And here is what I saw — a splash global gateway:

Vatican splash global gateway

The splash gateway offers six languages: English, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and French.

And I enjoy the fact that the Vatican City has its own country code top-level domain: .va. In case you’re wondering, our Country Codes of the World poster includes the .va domain.

The creative side of global navigation

Just because the splash global gateway is becoming ubiquitous, doesn’t mean that it has to be boring.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the splash global gateway is a landing page that allows visitors to self-select their language or country (or both). Based on the 2008 Web Globalization Report Card, more than 30% of the 225 sites reviewed now use a splash global gateway.

But there is a wide variance in the execution of these gateway pages.

Garrett Colburn of Web Associates pointed me to two companies that are bringing a bit of creativity to the global gateway, with rather uneven results.

First, we have Coleman:

coleman_gateway_550.jpg

Instead of “Select your country,” the site asks “Where do you want to play outside?”

The trouble with this approach is that Coleman doesn’t yet offer many outdoor places to play. For example, the only Latin American Web site is for Venezuela, not a country that I associate with “play” these days. And where is Brazil and Argentina?

A global gateway page calls attention not only to the countries you support but also those you do not support. In this case, by using a large map, the user sees all the parts of the world that Coleman does not yet support. You probably don’t want to use a map if there are only a small fraction of places on that map that are clickable.

As an alternative, consider the more austere and irreverent approach demonstrated by Ride Snowboards:

ride_snowboards_gateway.jpg

There is no map of the world on this splash page, just a collection of food types to represent parts of the world. One clearly evident flaw is the fact that the languages are not in their native languages. For example, “German” should be “Deutsch.” This is a very common mistake made by English-speaking designers.

Now, what does food have to do with snowboards? You’ve got me, though that’s probably the point of this exercise. A little irreverence might be right in line with the target audience, which does not include me.

I did check out two competitors, and their splash gateways are relatively staid in comparison.

Here is the Burton splash gateway:

burton_gateway.jpg

Burton may be staid, but in my opinion, this is most user-friendly gateway of the lot. Notice how the languages are translated. This may seem like a minor detail, but imagine if you visited a splash global gateway and the link to the US Web site was in, say, Arabic script. It wouldn’t be that easy to find. Language is the single most important element of user-friendly navigation.

Finally, here is the K2 gateway:

k2_gateway.jpg

Notice how K2 does not provide translated language names, similar to the Ride gateway. It could be these companies share the same corporate parent (or the same Web designer).

As more and more companies develop splash global gateways, we’re going to see more and more creative approaches, which is very exciting. Just keep in mind that the splash global gateway strategy you settle upon should be usable first, creative second.

To learn more, check out my new book The Art of the Global Gateway.

Flags and languages don’t mix

As a Web globalization geek, I really enjoy visiting Web sites that do not use English as the default language — and then trying to find a link to English content.

It’s a great way to understand what people who don’t speak English go through when they visit the global home (.com) pages of companies such as Amazon or Apple, which offer their default content in English.

I recently visited the home page of the French company Kannad, excerpted below:

Kannad

The .com page is in French, so I immediately looked for some link to English content.

And here’s a close-up of the link I used to get to the English site, the UK flag:

kannad_flag.jpg

While I knew that this link would take me to English content, flags should be used to indicate countries and not languages.

What Kannad should do is use no flag at all. “English” in plain text would suffice just fine.

For more information on global navigation, check out The Art of the Global Gateway.