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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.