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.

 

The top 25 websites from the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card

I’m excited to announce the publication of The 2018 Web Globalization Report Card. This is the most ambitious report I’ve written so far and it sheds light on a number of new and established best practices in website globalization.

First, here are the top-scoring websites from the report:

For regular readers of this blog, you’ll notice that Google was unseated this year by Wikipedia. Wikipedia, with support for an amazing 298 languages, made a positive improvement to global navigation over the past year that pushed it into the top spot. And Wikipedia, due to the fact that it is completely user-supported, indicates that there is great demand for languages on the Internet — and very few companies have yet responded in kind.

Google could still stand to improve in global navigation, as could Facebook.

Other highlights from the top 25 list include:

  • Consumer goods companies such as Pampers and Nestlé are a positive sign that non-tech companies are making positive strides in improving their website globalization skills.
  • As a group, the top 25 websites support an average of more than 80 languages (up from 54 last year); but note that we added a few websites that made a big impact on that average.
  • Luxury brands such as Gucci and Ralph Lauren continue to lag in web globalization — from poor support for languages to inadequate localization.
  • The average number of languages supported by all 150 global brands is now 32.

The data underlying the Report Card is based on studying the leading global brands and world’s largest companies — 150 companies across more than 20 industry sectors. I began tracking many of the companies included in this report more than a decade ago and am happy to share insights into what works and what doesn’t.  

I’ll have much more to share in the weeks and months ahead. If you have any questions about the report, please let me know.

Congratulations to the top 25 companies and to the people within these companies who have long championed web globalization.

The 2018 Web Globalization Report Card

Succeeding in the Translation Economy

Here is an article I wrote that was recently published in tcworld magazine.

In it, I define the “translation economy” and the opportunities (and challenges) it presents to all organizations.

From the information economy to the translation economy
The internet connected the world’s computers, and the digitization of content enabled the rapid flow of information around the world, which drove several decades of what came to be known as the information economy. But one of the great myths of the information economy – and the World Wide Web, for that matter – was the idea that a company could go global simply by launching a website. While the Internet connects computers, it is language that connects people, and the information economy has for too many years exhibited an English-language bias.

Read more…

And for much more on the translation economy, check out Think Outside the Country.

Also now available in Japanese!

 

 

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.

KPMG: The best global professional services website of 2017

For the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, we benchmarked the following professional services websites:

  • Accenture
  • Capgemini
  • Deloitte
  • Ernst & Young
  • KPMG
  • PWC

Over the past 18 months, KPMG, Deloitte, and PwC all launched new web designs. In addition, these websites continue to improve in not just creating locally relevant content but promoting this content on the local websites.

This year, KPMG narrowly edged out PwC, based on its very slight lead in languages. Both KPMG and PwC also made it into the top 25 list of best global websites.

Let’s take a look at how KPMG improved its website over the past year, beginning with the new design, which is now fully responsive and globally consistent:

A year before, the website was not fully responsive, and the global gateway relied on a cumbersome pull-down menu that listed all countries, shown here:

The new global gateway could still use some improving. Instead of linking to the full global gateway menu (shown below), the gateway provides a link to a one (or a few) suggested locales. Shown here is what a US-based visitor sees:

And here is what a Ukrainian-based visitor sees:

The goal here is to provide a “toggle” of sorts between languages or related locales. But I’d recommend the toggle be made visible in the header instead. Then you can use a globe icon to link to the full global gateway menu for those visitors who wish to navigate to entirely different locale.

On mobile devices, the global gateway remains in the header — which is excellent to see.

However, KPMG uses a different icon, one that could be viewed as a “location” icon. As I note in the Report Card, this icon is often used to find a physical location, as in a nearby store, so it’s possible that users won’t click on it intuitively to find their local content.

To learn more, check out the 2017 Report Card.

PS: All purchasers of the Report Card receive signed copies of Think Outside the Country, among other goodies.

Nissan: The best global automotive website of 2017

For the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, we studied the following 14 automotive websites:

  • Audi
  • BMW
  • Chevrolet
  • Ford
  • Honda
  • Hyundai
  • Land Rover
  • Lexus
  • Mercedes
  • Mini
  • Nissan
  • Tesla
  • Toyota
  • Volkswagen

Historically, automotive websites have been strong on languages but weak on global consistency and global navigation. And while most automotive websites continue to struggle on these fronts, I was pleased to see Nissan’s new global website design, a big reason why Nissan emerged number one for the first time.

BMW was the leader last year, with support for 41 languages and average global consistency. But Nissan’s new web design is more consistent and generally exhibits greater depth of localization. While many automakers do exhibit some degree of global consistency within a region, such as within Europe, it’s rare to see global consistency across regions. Shown below are Nissan’s Germany and Brazil home pages:

You’ll find few automotive websites that support consistency to this degree between these two distinct markets.

Nissan added a language last year and is now is tied with Honda for the lead in languages, at an impressive 46 languages. Nissan also stands apart in its support for local-language social feeds. For instance, here is an excerpt from the Spain home page:

 

When it comes to global navigation, sadly, no automotive website stands apart. Nissan, like many companies, incorrectly relies on flags. But it does do a very good job of supporting country codes.

What’s the best global website among American-based automotive companies? That would be Chevrolet. While many GB brands are, globally speaking, a mess, Chevrolet does exhibit a number of global best practices. It also does a good job of supporting Spanish for the US market:

Tesla was a new addition to the Report Card this year. And while the website does support strong global consistency, it lags in languages and in global navigation — also relying heavily on flags. Here’s the global gateway:

Hyundai finished last in our ranking this year, with low scores across the board, with the exception of global reach (languages). Note that Hyundai supports an impressive 43 languages, which goes to show that languages alone do not make for a successful global website.

Automotive companies are highly decentralized organizations with independent web teams and budgets, which often results in websites that share few design elements across country/region websites. But Nissan has taken a promising step forward, one that I believe other automakers are sure to follow.

For more information, check out the Web Globalization Report Card. It includes more than 25 pages of automotive website profiles.