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Creating a Truly International Web Site

Magazine article Online

Creating a Truly International Web Site

Article excerpt

While most of us are comfortable bandying about catch phrases like "global economy," corporate intranets are still playing catch-up when it comes to offering a truly international Web presence. Too often, such intranets are rendered in the primary language--and primary culture--of a corporation, leaving other members of the organization disenfranchised. Information professionals, who tend to have a more international perspective than some other disciplines, should be aware of these issues so that they can assist in the design elements of their employers' Web sites, both internal and external.

Fortunately, firms with a substantial international presence are beginning to wake up to this fact, and are beginning to design diversity into their corporate intranets so that all languages, and all cultures, can make full use of the intranet--a process known as Web site localization.


"Only six percent of the world speaks English," says Barry Shurchin, president Accurate Translation (www. "Why limit your Web site to such a small slice of the world?" Agrees Patrick McGonagle, director of marketing for Foreign Exchange Translations (, "About 25%-30% of firms that come to us these days are looking for Web site localization services. There's a lot of enthusiasm out there." Indeed. But while it's tempting to localize or internationalize your Web site by simply recruiting an old friend who took a few years of French or Spanish, localization services say that apparent quick fix is fraught with peril. Instead, these consultants say intranets with global ambitions must be bullet-proofed against symbols that have different meanings in various cultures, variations in language dialect and idiom, starkly different cultural reactions to the same color, and a host of similar nuances and subtleties that can deeply offend and/or confuse a potential customer or tra ding partner. Paul Fox, vice president of engineering at Excel Translations (, a localization service, says too many companies learn this the hard way, and then seek out the services of a localization expert. One of his clients, for example, was bruised early on in attempting to localize by posting non-localized instructions for use with its products on its Asia Web site.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the client used the image of a human hand with the palm facing forward as part of the instructions. Bad move, Fox says. In Asia, the image of a palm facing forward is considered an extremely threatening gesture. After consulting with Excel, the client quickly reversed the hand image and saved face with half the world. Meanwhile, another client also dodged a bullet after consulting with Excel about cookies. Essentially digital markers that can be placed on a PC hard drive when a user visits a Web site or corporate intranet, cookies violate privacy laws in some countries. That included France, where Excel's client was planning to expand. Not surprisingly, Excel's client decided to abandon the use of cookies when it expanded into the country.

Excel's Herve Rodriguez, the company's president, also notes that it is not enough to simply find a localization service that can translate from one language to another. Top shelf localizers are also well aware of the varying idioms and dialects of the markets you're targeting and will make the necessary adjustments. South America, Spain, and Mexico, for example, all share the same language. But the differences in dialects and idioms are quite stark. Ditto for Parisian French and the French spoken in Quebec, Rodriguez adds.


Yet another important concern is varying cultures' reaction to the same color. One client's decision to use purple lavishly throughout its Web site, for example, proved disastrous. The French associate purple with death and funeral parlors, Rodriguez notes. Another common color faux pax: using flag colors associated with one country to appeal to consumers in a rival country. …

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