Internet-How to Avoid Cross-cultural Minefields (1,353 words)
According to recent surveys conducted by IDC, U.S. companies expected that in 2000 e-commerce revenues generated from within the United States were more than double than those generated from international markets. These same companies project that in 2001, just one year later, their international e-commerce revenues would equal those generated in the United States.
Now while such optimism is not surprising in a world where Internet usage is increasing in orders of magnitude, there is a disconnect related to how these companies actually expect to attract these buyers outside the borders.
When the same companies were asked, "What do you do to internationalize your Web site?" there was only one answer that captured a clear 56-percent majority. The answer: "Nothing."
So while U.S. firms expect more than half their online business to come from outside the United States in 2001, more than half of them are doing nothing to cater to non-English speaking customers. This trend is supported by a report from Forrester Research that shows only 33 of the Fortune 100 companies have foreign language alternatives on their sites. In Europe, where population size makes cross-border e-commerce a business necessity, more than 50 percent of the sites are offered in other languages with some countries offering more than 90 percent of their sites in multiple languages.
Weaving a Multilingual Web
The lack of attention to Web localization in the States stems from a lingering misperception that the Internet is still largely an English language phenomena. Just slightly more than one year ago, more than 51 percent of those accessing the Web did so with English as their first language. However, figures reported by Global Reach confirm that in September 2000 the plurality shifted and English dropped to 49.9 percent. An update of Internet language access shows that in March the English- language online population eroded to 47.1 percent, and the December figures show a new low of 43 percent.