Lost in Translation

Localizing a corporate Web site can be a tricky, time-consuming affair. This may explain why few companies have attempted it.

For a lot of companies, however, it appears Web-site localization is more lip service than customer service. According to a Jupiter Communications WebTrack survey of 114 US Web sites, two-thirds of the site operators had made only a minimal (if any) attempt to adapt for other markets. Most corporates still fall into two camps: Many are globally aware but Internet-naive; the rest are Internet-savvy but globally naive.

This will change. To help generate cross-border revenues, some online operators are turning to a new breed of consultant: localization outsourcers. Some, like Silicon Valley-based Interwoven Inc. (www.interwoven.com), are new to localization — they’re actually technology companies. Others, such as Berlitz GlobalNET (www.berlitzglobalnet.com), are subsidiaries or spin-offs of old-style translation houses that have gotten into the ecommerce game. Most use a combination of human translators and machine translation technologies to translate and edit text in a culturally sensitive way.

Of course, localization is not just about words. “Translation is a small part of what we do, just one step,” insists Ethan Ding, director of operations (China and Korea) for US-based Lionbridge Technologies (www.lionbridge.com).

Localization specialists claim they can help clients protect their brands by providing control over marketing on a global basis. The concept: Centralize the message, translate it, and colloquialize it. Outsourcers also examine design concerns, such as the cultural implications of color. In many parts of Asia, for example, white is the kiss of death.

Further, localization experts can point out legal and regulatory snares. In France, for instance, consumers enjoy a one-week grace period after they receive an online purchase. In Germany, comparative advertising is banned. Ding, who is based in Beijing, says clients are often unnerved when they find out encrypted Web sites are regulated by the Chinese government.

The Village Idiom

Such advice may be invaluable, but it’s not exactly revolutionary. Big Five consultants, systems integrators, and market research firms have been dispensing this kind of wisdom — for a fee — for decades. The real selling point for localization outsourcers is their ability to solve traditional business problems — sales tax, customer relations, and the like — in a virtual, dynamic environment.

Boosted by industry efforts ensuring that Web programming languages work together sans frontières, their software products go beyond Web-based translating to knowledge management. Platforms marketed by GlobalSight (www.globalsight.com) and others aim to be all-in-one solutions for multilingual ebusiness. Several products perform more-specific tasks. BerlitzIT eFlow (from Berlitz GlobalNET) manages the workflow process for translation and localization projects — an aid in automating globalization projects.

The advent of these Web-site specialists means there’s lots of choice for corporate managers looking to localize their ebusinesses. Hong Kong-based WorldMetal.com (www.worldmetal.com), an emarketplace for trading ferrous and nonferrous metals, relies on localization software, but not on a localization outsourcer. The company uses a program from content management specialist BroadVision (www.broadvision.com). The multilingual application enables users to complete transactions online, and generates real-time updates of trading and market news in up to six languages. Personalization tools allow WorldMetal.com to tailor services to the individual needs of metal traders.

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