Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Universal Road Signs for Web Navigation

A talented boutique ad agency and design studio, EntirelyCreative run by our friends designer Jenette McEntire and photographer Paul McEntire came up with this tagline for Every time I used to put this image ("Business As Usual Has Left the Building") up on the big screen at presentations, it would bring a smile to many members of the audience.

Many cultural nuances can't be translated globally. It takes an Elvis fan to enjoy such tag lines.

Language Translation for a Global Audience

Which brings me to the topic of translations for a global audience. Today, I watched a very crisp webinar (and I am no fan of webinars because usually they are a cure for insomnia) in which the slides presented by Bryant Shea of Molecular were not only beautiful, but also right on - he let the pictures imprint into our minds the story that he was telling. The topic was about creating global websites. He touched upon cultural differences, language differences and time-zones.

In our business, we encounter global audieces all the time. This blog gets visitors from as far away as New Zealand and Australia. A trade show that we did for a telecom giant had exhibitors from 17 states in the USA and attendees from 6 different countries outside of the U.S.

To borrow from Seth Godin's post, is it a toothache?

Sometimes we wonder if it is worth the investment in making every virtual trade show booth speak a different language. A virtual trade show is almost like a collection of many websites. One virtual tradeshow can have visitors from several countries with several native languages. When will the market bear the cost of such translation? Is it a toothache that needs to be fixed immediately? I am not so sure.

Lingua Webnaviga

We got an inquiry from China about a virtual trade show and in the 4th or 5th round of discussions they asked about a translated version - seemed almost like an after-thought. Alibaba, the famous site for global trade uses English, to the best of my knowledge, even though the English you would encounter rewrites all rules of grammar and pronunciation. It gets the message across and it gets the job done. Sometimes it even makes one smile, because some of the foreign usage of English seems so logical, one begins to wonder if English should start changing itself to adapt to global needs.

For the most part, since a majority of the content in a virtual trade show or other virtual fair is user-generated and user-uploaded, our system renders the content in the language of submission and in the format of submission. As far as our platform itself goes, it is so intuitive that the language may not matter.

Universal Road Signs

Isn't there a better way to handle this challenge? With web traffic leaning towards audio and video, could the web rely on a system of symbols and signs made to some standards that are universal. Almost like road-signs? Incidentally, I chanced upon this interesting collection of U.S. road-signs. Going through the signs, it makes so much more sense to come up with a library of universal symbols for web-navigation.

I am not fully convinced that translation of the web into local languages is mission-critical for our business of virtual fairs. English is quite common even if it comes in various accents and if it morphs from country to country. Don't hold me to that view though. A few months from now, we might be buried in a project that necessitates extreme personalization across the globe. That would almost certainly include language translation even if in a limited fashion - or we just might start creating a set of symbols and see how global audiences in our virtual fairs react.