@media2006 Notes: Molly Holzschlag, Internationalisation: Awakening The Sleeping Giant

The following are my panel notes from @media2006. As I am not the fastest typer I have paraphrased what was said. Should you notice any mistakes please do point them out in the comments for corrections.

I'm talking about a topic that is very different for me to talk about.

I was giving a presentation in Boston and someone wanted to talk to be me about working in this area. My thing has be XHTMl CSS and that sort of thing. I wasn't an expert in Internationalisation. In 1993 when I came to teh web I already had experience of going on bulletin boards witha commodore 64. I was facinated by the idea of sitting in Tucson and talking to people around the world. It made me think that the world is getting smaller.

It's amazing how this field is growing. I was blogging before the term was coined by Peter Merholz. It's not out of technical or practical experience I am coming to you it's from my passion.


Purchase power. Talk to people in their language and they will respond. Users are 3 times more likely to buy a product available to then in their onw language.

Custimer service costs drop when instructions are written in the users own language.

Increased revenue. Lots of hits coming from Korea so they created a korean website and saw revenues rise by 8 percent.

In Wasp there's a lot of interest in internationalising middle eastern sites.

We veered off the path. This was supposed to be globally accessible medium.

If you use proper Internationalisation then you create happier users, if you are able to engage them in their own language.

With have a problem with terminolgy so the first thing to clarify is what is internationlisation:


The design and development of a product application or document that enables easy localisation for languages, culture etc

Encourages design and development that removes barriers to local and international access. Is sometimes referred to as globalisation. Shorthand i18n.

Provides technology for fatures realting to local regional language or culturally related concerns. Date/time formats. Calendar localisation. We all use different date formats for example we reverse it in the states. Number formats and numeral systems. Personal names and formats of addresses. Terms of endearment can be offensive depending on where you are.

We need to make a distinction between what is internationalisation and localisation. Localisation is a subset of internationalisation. To adapt a product, applicaiton or doucment to me the language cultural and other requirements of a specific target market.

In Tucson we have mexsican immigrants so you have to think about using Spanish or Spanglish if you want to target people in Tucson Arizona. This is also different depending on the age groups. Young people have grown up bi-lingual.

You are adpating to the locale and the quirks of that region. This is not easy. It's a sleeping giant in the sense of how much we have to learn about the world.

Internationalisation is thought of a synonym of translation which isn't the full story.

From the audience (Tomas Caspers). Translating the word technology into German doesn't make any sense if done literally.
From the audience: It's difficult working on minority language that isn't sanctioned by the government as there aren't the resources. It's dangerous to make up words.

MH: In some places in the US bi-lingual learning has been banned even when the majority of an area is say spanish for example.

From the audience: We have so many languages in Belgium this causes lots of problems you can't have one language as dominant you have to do it simultaneously.

MH: Belgium is a great case study for this. It's not just multilingual, but there is semantic meaning that's different depeding on language and not just locale.

FtA: There should be ways to to work at the same time in different languages rather than adding it afterwards.

MH: I love you, this is what we should be doing. For accessiblity usability and internationalisation, rather than the retrofitting that we tend to do. We've got to start all of this stuff in our planning. We need to work out what our audience is at the beginning.

FtA: Canada has several different languages. Chin.org? provides lots of resources to facilitate this.

Customisation relating to:

Numeric date and time formats Use of currency

Keyboard usage hash is called 'pound' which means something v. different in the UK. Symbols, icons and colour.

If I say the colour red, e.g red light district could be the association. However in china red is seen as very powerful.

Sensitivity to cultural perceptions in regards to language and visual images.

Triangle as a shape has many different perceptions. From culture to culture the meaning of these symbols change.

Best Practices:

Who's frustrated with the term standards?

Audience: The idea of a standard is something that is static that doesn't change every 6 weeks
Audience: Their not actually standards as everyone ignores them.

It's not accurate to say that standards inhibit us.

Use Structural and semantic markup
Separate presentation using CSS

At a guess globally only 4% of the world are doing this.

Separate behaviour via JavaScript.

internationalised sites rely on aspects of a document's structural elements
Proper encoding use of the lanf and xml:lang attributes Ability to manage monolingual as well as multilingual documents.

Example. lang is set in the lang attribute as well as the meta data. You can also use the lang attibute to in teh structure of the document. <em lang="fr">chat<em> using <i> is a problem say for japanese as they may use other forms of emphasis. In this case <em> is more appropriate.

We can then style this appropriately.

Ancient greek goes from left to right and then right to left. We were talking about this for an hour and a half at the working group how we can do this.

Semantic meaning

Meaningful naming for class and Id values and microformats is particularly important. Presentation will change from local to locale.


A sytem of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours and artifacts that the members of a society use to cope with their world and with one another, ad that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning.

Cross cultural challenge

It's difficult for a person from one culture to understand the needs of another. Thus you need quilified representatives who can adequately represent the cultural values of the target market.

Using the writtena and spoken language of the target audience not the locale: Chinese documents put on the new WaSP website had to be made larger so that they could be read.

Using time/date formats appropriately and consistently

Bad tranlations:
If you want the condition of cool in your room please control yourself - tokyo hotel
Guests are expected to complain at the office between 0900 and 100 am. - paris hotel
We are sorry for the incontinence - Los Angeles hotel

Screen Usage concerns

Directionality influences design. What happens if you don't read that way.

Colors and imagery:

Reponses to imagery can be stronger than that of colours.

Color is a very powerful tool of persuasion.
Be aware of national and cultural issues as they relate to colour.
A culturally problematic colour can send the wrong message.

When in doubt use blue as it's the most culturally neutral.


i18n can increase revenue.
The issues are complex

What can you do.

ensure your languages and scrips are brought to the attention of the W3C
Push for adoption
follow web standards

Check this out:


Join the internationalisation user group.

comments powered by Disqus