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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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Apple opens online store for Russia (and a call for improving the global gateway)

Not exactly breaking news, but Apple Store is now live in Russia.

I love the art they used for the launch:


The global gateway that Apple uses for its online stores is a subset of the gateway it uses for its main website. Both global gateways are in need of improvement. For starters, they need to rid themselves of the flag icons. I’ve yet to find a usability study that demonstrates that flags help users find their local websites more quickly. I believe flags can actually hinder usability.

apple store global gateway

I’m hard on Apple in this regard because the company is usually pretty good at simplifying things. But when it comes to global navigation, Apple complicates things. And, worse, Apple sends a message out to other companies that flags improve usability. When they often do not.



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Russia’s Internet growth is just getting started

I checked domain registration stats from Russia’s registry and here are the high-level numbers:

If you combine IDNs and ccTLDs, Russia becomes the third-ranked country in terms of country code registrations, behind Germany and the UK.

But what caught my eye is that, according to the registry, only 44% of the population has Internet access (52 million people).

Russia has a great deal of Internet growth ahead of it still. I expect to see a number of newly localized Russian websites as I continue work on the 2012 Web Globalization Report Card this month.

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From Russia, with IDNs

A little more than a year ago, Russia opened up registration for its top-level IDN: рф.

Since then, more than 900,000 domains have been registered, making this the most successful IDN by far.

I’ve always been quick to stress that the bulk of these registrations are coming from squatters: folks hoping to make a quick buck reselling them. Yet according to Russia’s registry, about one in five registered domains is now hosting a live website.

I’d still love to see a list of some of these live websites to make sure they truly are legitimate websites — and not just placeholders.

Even so, let’s assume that 100,000 web sites are indeed live and indeed legitimate, that’s an impressive number.

Take McDonald’s.

McDonald’s supports a localized website at макдональдс.рф,

However, for the most part, the companies that are using Russia’s IDN are Russian nationals and government agencies.

Here are a few live sites:

I suspect I’ll read an article in the NY Times a year from now about how there’s a huge domain rush on for Russia’s IDNs — and how Western companies are late to the party.

Because they are.

And in case you’re wondering if you can register a Russian IDN — you absolutely can. The restriction on foreigners was just lifted.


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Type Russian without the keyboard

There are shortcuts on most English keyboards for entering characters such as á and é.

But I can never seem to remember what those shortcuts are.

Fortunately, there is TypeIt, an online editor that gives you the ability to input non-ASCII characters used by languages such as Spanish, Hungarian, and Russian. Here’s a screen shot:


Operating systems like OSX and Windows also give you the ability to change your keyboard virtually — but that can be a real pain if you only need to input an á.

Tomasz Szynalski launched TypeIt in 2004, and the site gets about 35,000 visits a month. Some people use the editor like I do — to crank out a few characters — while others use it to write entire letters. Russian is the latest keyboard added — and I hope to see more to come.

The site is

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Is Facebook “translation worthy” or just plain cheap?

I read at Design Across Cultures that Facebook is planning to use “crowdsourcing” to allow its users to create translated content.

Crowdsourcing is a hot new buzzword that is best illustrated by Wikipedia — you take a lot of motivated volunteers, give them access to your Web site, and let them go crazy. I’m simplifying things of course, and crowdsourcing is no cure-all. People sometimes game the system for various reasons. But the net result can amount to something that could never have been created without the crowd involvement.

Now, Wikipedia has next to no money and it’s a non-profit; crowdsourcing is not just a great strategy but a necessity.

And crowdsourcing can be a great way to localize your Web site.

Google relied on crowdsourcing in its early years to translate its search engine interface into more than 60 languages (and still relies on the technique in more limited ways today). Netvibes relied on volunteer translators to quickly localize its interface into more than 60 languages.

Naturally, the idea of having your Web site translated for “free” is alluring to a lot of companies. But very few companies will find that they are translation worthy. Web users will not bother to translate a Web interface if they don’t actually see a need to use the product itself in their native language.

So Is Facebook Translation Worthy?

You can’t fault Facebook for trying to get some free translation help, and I suspect that it will find plenty of volunteer translators, though it will take time. But a part of me can’t help wondering why the company hasn’t just coughed up a few dollars to get its localization efforts moving sooner rather than later. After all, doesn’t the company have a market value of, like, $100 billion?

The challenge with crowdsourcing translations is that nothing is truly free. Facebook has to dedicate people and resources to create the translation workflow and approval processes to ensure that the finished translations are of high quality. These things take time, and time also costs money.

Given the importance of acting quickly when it comes to taking social networking sites global, it seems to me that Facebook would be wise to pay for localization for some core languages and then use crowdsourcing to support the less-strategic languages. This way, Facebook could accelerate tackling those markets that are already seeing Facebook knockoffs (like the Russian knockoff shown below).

Russian facebook

Relying on volunteers to translate content is an emerging trend — one that can give a company a tremendous advantage over its competition. And I think we’ll see many more companies try this strategy in the years ahead.

But before getting started, ask yourself: Is our Web site translation worthy?

UPDATE: Techcrunch provides additional details on Facebook’s translation efforts.