Amazon’s uneven (and not unusual) language strategy

Amazon Crossing is the Amazon publishing imprint dedicated to translating non-English books into English. In just a few years it has grown to be a leading translator of literary novels.

I noted earlier that Amazon.in doesn’t significantly support Indian languages. But on the Amazon Crossing submission page, you will find support for Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi. The global gateway is shown below on the right:

The gateway is (sadly) missing a globe icon — though I suspect the Amazon Crossing logo is partly to blame (one globe too many perhaps).

Other languages supported include Arabic, Portuguese and Russian. What’s interesting here is that the language mix is noticeably different on the Amazon.com site.

Both Amazon.com and Amazon Crossing support 13 languages in addition to English as noted in the 2017 Report Card, which means Amazon still has a long ways to go before it competes with the leaders in languages. Here is the average number of languages supported by the leading global brands over the past seven years.

But what I wanted to call attention to is Amazon’s uneven support for languages across its different products and services — a phenomenon that is not unique to Amazon. Many multinationals I work with support different language mixes for different properties. The rationale is sound: Different products and services have different audiences, marketing strategies, global and regional partners, and local opportunities.

But how do you balance an uneven language strategy with a consistent global content architecture? For example, let’s say you have one product page localized into Russian and a visitor to that product page goes to the global nav menu and selects another product, naturally assuming this other product also is also localized into Russian, only to discover it is not.

This problem is only going to grow more acute as more companies decentralize their global product content and marketing strategies.

Of course, every challenge is also an opportunity. Where companies can differentiate themselves is in how effectively they manage user expectations, manage language expectations, and how they leverage machine translation to fill language gaps.

To learn more about which companies are doing the best job at managing language expectations, check out the Web Globalization Report Card.

Q&A with Jukka Korpela, author of Going Global with JavaScript and Globalize.js

What’s the most important thing you want JavaScript developers to learn from this book?
By making use of free tools such as Globalize.js, developers can easily adapt their applications for new markets with a minimal amount of work. For example, adapting the format of a date or number for a different country requires a single library function call.

This book also goes into more complex operations and functions, but it’s important that developers first get a feel for simple data format localization.

What is Globalize.js and why is it so valuable for developing global software?
Globalize is a standalone, open source JavaScript library that help you to globalize your JavaScript code. Globalize lets you adapt your code to work with a multitude of human languages. You need not know the languages or their conventions and you do not need to manually code the notations.

Globalize includes locale data for more than 300 locales, including presentation of numbers, date notations, calendars, time zones. It is easily modifiable and extensible to cover new locales.

You devote a chapter to the finer points of Unicode. Why is it so important for developers to understand Unicode?
Unicode has become widely used on web pages, in applications, and in databases, but most IT professionals still have a rather limited understanding of it. The generality of Unicode—covering more than 100,000 characters from all kinds of writing systems—has its price: complexities and practical issues. These issues are often encountered in common operations such as string comparison and case conversions.

You’re based in Finland. What common mistakes do you see made by developers who have localized software for your locale?
The most common mistake is partial localization: a page or application appears to be in Finnish or Swedish, but on a closer examination, you’ll see English notations for data items. Even the most current software may use a date notation like 11/6/2012, which is not only incorrect by our language rules, but also ambiguous.

Often, menus contain a mix of Finnish and English items. You might also see a dropdown list of countries of the world, with names in Finnish but in an odd order, usually based on English-language alphabetization rules.

Mistranslations are not rare and may cause real harm, particularly in menus, buttons, and labels for form fields. An expert may understand the cause of the problem—someone has translated a short fragment of text with no idea of the context−but average users are simply confused and may revert to use the English-language site as a lesser of two evils.

HTML5 proposes new input attributes, such as date and number. But these elements pose challenges that many developers might not be aware of. Can you explain why?
Browser support is still limited, inconstant, and partly experimental. But in addition to that, these elements have not yet been defined and implemented with globalization in mind. They may be implemented using browser-driven localization, using the browser’s locale. Adequate localization would reflect the locale of the content, the web page.

These issues can be partly addressed using code that avoids improper localization. But although the new elements are promising in the long run, they should be regarded rather as interesting features to be tested and used in controlled situations, rather than used in normal production.

Going Global by JavaScript and Globalize.js

NOTE: We also offer an enterprise price for a PDF copy of the book to be shared across your company.

Byte Level Books is looking for authors

Byte Level Books logo

I’m pleased to announce the formation of a new publishing imprint dedicated to “books with a world view.”

To date, we’re published two books — The Savvy Client’s Guide to Translation Agencies and The Art of the Global Gateway. These books are now available in print and digital format on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And they will soon be available through the Apple iBookstore.

We began with in-house titles (that is, titles by yours truly) so we could focus on developing a production process that supported both print and digital books. Now that we’ve ironed out the production kinks, we want to start taking on new authors.

Here are some of the areas we are most interested in:

  • Global web and mobile design insights
  • Country and cultural insights
  • How-to guides on the internationalization and localization of software and mobile apps
  • Translator tips and best practices
  • Essays on language and globalization

If you are an expert in any of these areas and you’d like to share your ideas with the world, we’d love to hear from you.

You can learn more, and submit a proposal, at www.bytelevelbooks.com.

The Kindle forces the question: Is it bookworthy?

It doesn’t have backlighting. It doesn’t natively support PDFs. And it’s not cheap.

And yet I still ended up getting the Kindle.

It’s thinner than I expected and I really get a kick of how it never is “off” in the conventional sense. When you turn the device off you typically get an illustration of a famous autho.

kindle1

The interface is usable enough, but there is plenty of room for improvement. It was funny to watch my wife try it for the first time. She touched the screen to select an option — a sign of what the iPhone is doing to us all. I felt the urge to touch the screen as well. This makes me realize that Apple is going to do something just like the Kindle eventually (maybe sooner than later). Perhaps power consumption is the big obstacle. But it’s hard to see any hand-held device not going “touch” in the years ahead.

I LOVE the embedded dictionary. If you set the cursor next to a word you don’t understand, the definition appears at the bottom of the screen. I’m going to learn a lot of words that I was simply too lazy to look up these many years.

But the reason for getting the Kindle wasn’t to expand my vocabulary so much as to save shelf space.

Is it bookworthy?

Since downsizing my life back into an apartment, I’ve realized that I can’t keep acquiring books. I love books. I adore books. But I only have so much room for books. And I don’t like to get rid of them once I’ve acquired them.

I’ve found that I’ve resisted buying books simply because I’m running out of shelf space. With the Kindle I can now read those books that may not be “bookworthy” enough to take up precious space on a shelf.

The good news is that I can continue buying those print books that I can’t live without, my wife’s book included — but it’s nice to have a choice.

I also am now making good use of ManyBooks, an excellent repository of copyright-free books in a number of formats. I don’t think I would have ever purchased White Jacket by Herman Melville, but I just downloaded it.

Moby-Dick is clearly bookworthy, but is every Melville book? The Kindle gives me the opportunity to preview a book before buying the “real” print version. Amazon provides a preview option with books as well.

And, yes, I could have done the same exact thing on my PC, downloading PDF versions of all these classic books. And I have already downloaded a number of books in PDF form. But I just don’t read books on a computer, even a laptop computer. There are too many other distractions — email, news, facebook, this blog!

With the Kindle, all you do, for the most part, is read. And I like that.

The decline of “books”; the rise of “content”

As a writer — one who has a novel of his own that he’d like to see in print form one day — the Kindle is a mixed blessing. I agree that this device and the many to follow represent the future of reading for the generation that doesn’t even get a newspaper delivered to the door each morning (I’m still clinging to my daily New York Times).

I don’t believe the Kindle will eliminate books, perhaps a few mainstream bookstores, but not books.

But I do feel books becoming “content” now that they are digitized, along with music and movies and anything else that will fit on a flash disk. In fact, I don’t even view the books on my Kindle as books. Books are those objects on my shelves, that I’ve dragged with me from city to city — some as long as 30 years (I still have a few Hardy Boys books, even a Nancy Drew).

It’s an odd feeling to be caught between two technologies. The print books were once cutting edge — and now we have the digital equivalent.

I guess in the end all that matters is that people keep reading. And if the Kindle achieves that goal, so be it. I certainly find myself reading a bit more since getting it.