Web globalization in a post-PC world

PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones

Source: The Noun Project

The 2012 Web Globalization Report Card is my first attempt at analyzing web globalization in a post-PC world.

By post-PC world, I’m referring to  a world in which the website adapts not only to the device (PC, tablet, smartphone) but also to the user. That is, it’s not enough to adapt to an iPad, but you also need to consider what tasks that user needs to accomplish with that iPad. Location matters. Context matters. And, yes, language and culture certainly matter (though these two details have so far gone overlooked by many mobile websites and apps).

But first let me back up two years.

When the iPad first came out, one of the main selling points was how easy it made browsing the web — assuming that website didn’t include any Flash elements.

At the time it seemed that companies needed only to get rid of Flash to be fully accessible to the growing number of iPad users. (Amazingly, more than a third of the websites reviewed in the 2012 Report Card still use Flash).

I want to stress here that Flash isn’t just an Apple limitation; the coming tablets from Microsoft will also be devoid of any native support for Flash. But Flash is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as tablets are concerned.

This post-PC world is about completely rethinking the “web” experience. And I include apps here, because apps are often pulling the same data as a website, but doing so through an interface (and code base) that takes full advantage of the features of that mobile operating system (like caching data, supplying the user’s location, saving user preferences, enabling the phone, camera, etc.) This is all very exciting — but also very complicated. And chaotic if you’re in charge of managing all of these moving parts.

Consider Hotels.com, which was ranked #5 in this year’s report. The company currently supports (in 38 languages):

  • A website specifically for the PC
  • An website for smartphones
  • A mobile app for smartphones
  • A mobile app specifically for the iPad

In just a few years, companies have gone from supporting a PC website and, maybe, supporting a mobile website that very few people ever used — to supporting a diverse range of websites and apps.

Where does web globalization fit into all of this?

Currently, not very well. That is, many of the companies studied in this report may support 20 or more languages on their PC sites but only one or two languages on their mobile apps or websites.  And global navigation is not always well thought out. Users might have to dig to find localized websites or content.

These are early days still.

And that’s where the Report Card fits in. Because the companies that merge global requirements with their mobile requirements are going to be far better off in the long run. “World readiness” will need to be given the same priority as “mobile readiness.”

In this year’s report, I added three key metrics to the methodology, metrics that I believe will become requirements in the years ahead:

1. Support language parity across PC and mobile. Right now, very few companies maintain the same linguistic experience across PCs and mobile devices. The language leader in iPhone mobile apps is Google, with support for 42 languages via its search app. And this is the leader. Granted, the iPhone operating system isn’t itself exactly a language leader at  33 languages — compared with Android (4.0) at 57. But few companies have gotten close to testing these language limits.

Most  companies are happy to offer mobile apps that support around 10 languages or fewer — even though their PC websites support 20 or more languages. Mobile should receive the same degree of language support as PC. Given mobile vs. PC usage in some countries, one could argue that your language budget is better served on the mobile side before the PC side (a subject for a later post).

2. Keep it lightweight. Just because a web user has a broadband connection at home doesn’t mean that his or her iPad will have a broadband connection in, say, an airport. Despite the many promises of wireless carriers, wireless broadband is just not a reality for most people. It’s time for companies to put strict weight limits in place for their websites to ensure that users on mobile devices have a positive experience. This is one of the easiest wins on the web these days and I’m still surprised how many companies overlook it. Speed was one of the main reasons Google became the dominant search provider. And speed still is very much a way to stand apart from your competition, not just in one country but in any country.

3. Get rid of Flash. I don’t hate Flash, but I’m a pragmatist. It’s challenging enough for web teams to manage content across so many devices let alone to worry about also supporting Flash vs. non-Flash sites. By eliminating Flash, you free up resources to focus on mobile devices and user scenarios. And here’s one bonus reason for eliminating Flash — you free up your content to be self-translated by the user via Google Translate or Bing Translate.

Nike, which is included in this report, has been steadily migrating away from Flash. It still uses so much Flash on its PC site that it had to create a separate website for the iPad.

In my experience, the Nike iPad website offers a superior experience than the PC site. The site is more lightweight and the content more focused. Tablets force a “less is more” approach to design, which in my experience is usually a better experience.

It’s a great time to take chances

All companies are well aware of the opportunities that mobile offers. But only a few companies are leading. Hotels.com is certainly one of the leaders. Facebook and Google are there as well. To be a leader these days is to take chances. Though some standards have emerged, there really is no “one” way to design a website for the iPad or a smartphone. It reminds me of the early days of the Internet itself. The post-PC era is going to give birth to new standards and new leaders.

NOTE: Here are some post-PC numbers. And recent stats that show mobile Internet usage doubling over the past year to 8.5% (excluding tablets).

The best global websites of 2012

UPDATE: The 2017 Web Globalization Report Card is now available.

I’m happy to announce the publication of the 2012 Web Globalization Report Card. This year, we reviewed 105 websites across 17 industries; the websites comprise 70% of the Interbrand Best Global Brands of 2011. This year, we also reviewed mobile websites and mobile apps, to better understand how companies were balancing global and mobile strategies.

Out of the websites reviewed, here are the top 25 overall:

Last year, Facebook emerged (barely) as number one. This year, Google reclaims the top spot. Although Google continues to struggle to harmonize its global navigation across its many applications, the company also continues to invest in globalization. Google now supports more than 140 languages on its search engine and its new Google+ app supports an impressive 40 languages. Facebook’s mobile app, by comparison, supports just 13 languages. Though Facebook continues to improve its global navigation, its language growth stalled in 2011.

As a group, the top 10 websites support an average of more than 50 languages. They also demonstrate a high degree of global design consistency across most, if not all, localized websites. This degree of consistency allows them to focus their energies on content and mobile localization. Two new companies on this list – Hotels.com and Booking.com – exhibit an impressive commitment to mobile devices. Any company that is developing a global mobile strategy should study these two companies.

Why didn’t Apple make the top 10?
I’m anticipating I will get asked this as I was asked the same thing last year. After all, how can a company with nearly $100 billion in the bank not be in the top 10? It seems that Apple has been rather tightfisted with its translation spending; the company supports far fewer languages on its website than on its mobile operating system iOS. Does it make sense for an iPad and iPhone to support Arabic and Hebrew and for Apple’s website not to support these languages?

Language parity between mobile and PC is a key component of the 2012 Report Card and Apple did not fare well in this regard.

It’s worth noting that of the websites reviewed, roughly half now support Arabic and/or Hebrew.

In the Report Card, languages account for 25% of a web site’s score. We also evaluate a web site’s depth and breadth of local content, support for local-language social networks, the effectiveness of the global gateway, and global consistency across PC and mobile platforms. Beginning in 2010, we began tracking how companies promote local social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter around the world. In 2010, only a handful of companies supported a Twitter or Facebook page outside of English. Today, more than half of all companies reviewed support a social network outside of English.

Cisco Systems is worth studying for its Social@Cisco pages. This social aggregation page was first launched in 2010. It is now available in more than 30 markets, with local feeds incorporated.

Hard for me to believe, but this is the eighth edition of the Report Card. It’s the largest report ever, with 40 website profiles and a special section on “taking mobile global.” I’ll have lots more to say in the weeks ahead.

To learn more, check out the 2012 Web Globalization Report Card.