Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

by Gordon Benett

Willy Brandt, former chancellor of Germany, summed up the globalization
imperative nicely when he said, "When I am selling to you, I must speak
English. But when you are selling to me, dann müssen Sie Deutsch
sprechen [you must speak German]." Whether you're trying to reach
employees on a worldwide intranet, business partners on a global
extranet or customers on an international storefront, nothing repels
visitors faster than a Web site they can't understand.

How important is tailoring your site for a culturally diverse audience?
To some extent it depends on who your target market is; but Web users
are increasingly likely to speak languages other than English. For
instance, research firm Global Reach predicts that by 2004 only
one-third of Web users will be native English speakers. Combine this
with IDC's estimate that in three years, Internet spending outside the
U.S. will top $914 billion -- two-thirds of the world's $1.64 trillion
in e-commerce -- and globalization begins to look less like a
nice-to-have than a mandate.

Aberdeen Group defines Web Globalization as "the process of developing
e-Business applications that seamlessly operate across international
boundaries and accommodate multiple languages, cultures, privacy
concerns and local business practices." Anyone who has struggled to
maintain a Web site in one language will recognize the challenges facing
multiple language sites. Content management solutions capable of
handling multiple languages and character sets, such as Vignette V/5 and
Interwoven TeamSite, can help bring order to the process. But
translation and multilingual content management are only part of the
story. To communicate effectively across markets, not only a site's
language but its cultural and brand connotations must be translated as

Consider the difficulty General Motors had rolling out the Chevrolet
Nova in Latin American, where in Spanish no va means "doesn't go" --
probably not the impression GM intended to make! Subtler brand
dissonances can occur as well. The colors red and green are often used
for positive emphasis on U.S. Web sites, for instance; but in China red
can have negative connotations, and green can mean bad news in some
Buddhist countries and Israel. Cultural signifiers like these are a
minefield for the uninitiated.

Doing business across borders also requires adhering to local regulatory
and tax issues, including import/export, as well as implementing local
business practices and policies. While some of these localization rules
can be embedded in an application server and automated, others require a
human touch.

Don't expect to buy a piece of software that will take care of all your
globalization needs. Effective solutions combine technology that
streamlines change management and multilingual publishing with human
translation and interpretive expertise. Accordingly, many solution
providers in this space -- including Berlitz GlobalNET, eTranslate,
GlobalSight, Idiom, Lionbridge Technologies, SDL International and
Uniscape -- offer both infrastructure software and an extensive network
of in-country translators. Often, the software will support the vendor's
service offering by automating content flows to translators in a
platform-neutral format such as XML. Tools such as translation memories
and language knowledge bases can help streamline the translation process

In addition to these operational issues, there remain technical
challenges associated with representing certain types of data
internationally on the Web. Resolving these issues, which concern times
and dates, currencies, sorts and searches, character sets and other
regionally variable information, is the goal of the W3C
Internationalization (I18N) working group
( and other industry organizations,
such as the Localisation Industry Standard Association (LISA,

The Internet is inherently global, but bridging linguistic and cultural
divides has always challenged businesses, and e-Business is no
exception. Globalizing your Web site will require a sound business
strategy, reliable, streamlined processes for maintaining multiple,
multilingual sites, and an ongoing investment in tools and services.

Look at it this way: if it was going to be easy, there wouldn't have
been a Tower of Babel.

About the Author:

Gordon Benett is a Senior Analyst at Aberdeen Group with a research
focus in Enterprise Java and Middleware. He founded Intranet Design
Magazine and has over 16 years experience consulting to Fortune 500
clients, including Fleet Bank, New England Electric and General
Electric. Gordon welcomes your comments at