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Forget it, Jake. It’s China.

A timely article in The Wall Street Journal (that I only recently got around to reading): “The future’s not here.” American business people once saw China as dynamic, exciting and wide open. Not anymore.

To which I ask: When was China ever “wide open?”

An excerpt:

For years, American entrepreneurs saw a place in which they would start tech businesses, build restaurant chains and manage factories, making potentially vast sums in an exciting, newly dynamic economy. Many mastered Mandarin, hired and trained thousands in China, bought houses, met their spouses and raised bilingual children.

Now disillusion has set in, fed by soaring costs, creeping taxation, tightening political control and capricious regulation that makes it ever tougher to maneuver the market and fend off new domestic competitors. All these signal to expat business owners their best days were in the past.

Let’s not blame the recent trade and tariff issues. China is a ruthlessly competitive market that, like so many countries, tilts the playing field in favor of its home-grown companies. And intellectual property is (to put it mildly) not well protected. I remember when Bill Gates traveled to China years ago to complain about the epic levels of piracy of the Windows OS (at the time, Windows was the leading operating system in China and yet Microsoft saw little in the way of revenues).

Other companies that have struggled in China include Cisco, Amazon and WalMart. And let’s not overlook the fact that Google and Facebook are still desperately trying to squeeze their way in without selling their souls (and are close to doing just that).

One thing I have been telling companies in the early stages of going global for more than a decade now — if China is your first overseas market, perhaps you should select another. Going global is difficult, no matter what country or culture you target. But add in one of the most heavily and capriciously regulated intranets (China’s Internet is in truth an intranet) and you face a very steep hill to climb. That’s not to say you shouldn’t target China, but go into it with eyes open and a long-term game plan.

And, frankly, that’s true for any market. Every new market is a new frontier — with new rules, cultures, competitors. The experience of going global can be equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. But it is most definitely not boring!

Speaking of… I’m now working on the next edition of the Web Globalization Report Card. Lots of exciting new developments which I will write about in the weeks and months ahead.

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Yet another reason to avoid using flags on your global gateway

As readers of this blog well know, I often refer to China and Taiwan when making the case for avoiding the use of flags on a global gateway. There are many others reasons, of course, but geopolitical issues have become more acute lately.

I could also point to the Russia and Kosovo as another case study for avoiding the use fo flags. As this New York Times article notes Kosovo, despite being a FIFA member, cannot fly its flag at World Cup stadiums:

The flag — which depicts a gold map of Kosovo under six white stars on a blue background — is one of more than two dozen barred from World Cup stadiums by tournament organizers.

Here’s a visual of the flags not allowed into the stadiums:

While most countries acknowledge Kosovo and its flag, Russia does not. And because this World Cup is hosted by Russia, well, so it goes.

Which brings me back to your global gateway.

Your global gateway is a tool for helping visitors find (or change) their locale setting, not a geopolitical statement.

So keep you life simple and avoid using flags.

And, yes, I know many companies are still learning this lesson the hard way, but more and more websites are removing flags entirely. You can learn more in the Web Globalization Report Card and Think Outside the Country.

 

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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.

 

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Is your vendor putting your international business in jeopardy?

You hire a vendor to conduct a global survey.

And let’s suppose this vendor refers to Taiwan as a country and the email goes out to people in China who believe differently, and they happen to be in a position to punish you by blocking your website within China.

This is roughly what happened with Marriott.

According to Skift it was indeed a vendor that led to this misstep. And the CEO, Arne Sorenson, has vowed to make sure it won’t happen again:

“We should have caught it, even though it was provided by a third party, and we didn’t catch it,” Sorenson said. “We moved quickly to fix that mistake and we are moving as quickly as we can to look at all of the stuff we’ve got exposed out there online to customers in China and customers around the world to make sure we are not making similar mistakes in the future.”

This is a lesson that all companies should take to heart. When you hire vendors to communicate with the world on your behalf — you have to audit their work just as closely as you would your own. Because at the end of the day it’s your brand name that will suffer.

Here we are, roughly six weeks later, and the Marriott website still appears to be blocked. Mistakes happen, but the more educated your marketing and web teams are to global and local regulatory and cultural issues, the fewer of these mistakes you will make.

Which leads me to a new report that we’ve just published: Web Globalization Bloopers & Blunders.

I’ve found over the years that it often helps to highlight the more common mistakes that organizations have made to help other organizations sidestep them. This report is included with the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card.