Moving Globalization and Localization Concerns from Afterthought to Forethought

November 1, 2007 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Globalization | Leave a comment

Below is an excerpt from an article in today’s Wall St. Journal (11/1/07 page B3). The article is called “How Netlog Leaps Language Barriers”. It describes how much easier it was for Netlog to translate its web site into multiple languages than it was for MySpace because of proper forethought to the translation process:

Compare that with what MySpace had to do when it wanted to launch in non-Western languages like Japanese and Russian. The site had to rewrite the code of its entire Web site, a Herculean task that took MySpace’s 40 developers six months. “It was pretty controversial internally,” said Travis Katz, MySpace’s managing director for international. “But we thought this was the right thing to do; international growth is the key to our future.”

Turkey is an example of how quickly Netlog can move. In July, Mr. Bogaert decided to launch a Turkish version after noticing that Turkish immigrants living in Germany were congregating on the German site. He found two Turkish exchange students to translate the site. Four months later, the site has 2.5 million users. Mr. Bogaert estimates that it cost about €1,000 to launch.

The article describes the capability Netlog used as “a novel tool the software developers came up with to make the site easy to translate.” It’s not really novel. It’s called code internationalization. As described by Wikipedia “The current prevailing practice is for applications to place text in resource strings which are loaded during program execution as needed. These strings, stored in resource files, are relatively easy to translate. Programs are often built to reference resource libraries depending on the selected locale data.” This is precisely the method used by Netlog.

I see two take-aways here:

  • First is the value of moving localization concerns to the beginning of the planning process from the end. By building the content with translation in mind (more specifically, focusing on code internationalization), costs were reduced from 240 man months to 8 and reaction time was improved from 6 months to 4.
  • Second is the importance of the business treating globalization as a first-order imperative. Interestingly, both companies seem to treat globalization as critical to their growth (the quote from Mr. Katz is a great example), but only one has pushed that message down to the people doing the work so it can have an actual effect.

This example was related to code internationalization, but it applies just as well to static websites and non-web content. Moving globalization and localization to the beginning of the planning process rather than the end and recognizing globalization as a first-order business imperative are essential for organizations that seek growth outside their home markets.

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