Will Web 3.0 Be Localized?
By Evan Norman, McElroy Translation
Web 2.0 is defined many ways, but one simple definition is “the era when people have come to realize that it's not the software that enables the web that matters so much as the services that are delivered over the web.” The social networking and blogging phenomena appear by my estimation to be dying down and losing their appeal as web business models since everyone has exhausted and copied what you can do with sharing information with your friends and making new friends. The trend seems to be toward creating little online applications using existing client-server technologies or API (Application Programming Interfaces) provided by other toolmakers, like making a site that shows you where all the good beer is in town http://www.beerhunter.ca/ or plotting your jogging routes http://www.walkjogrun.net/ or sharing travel information in a journalistic, collaborative way travbuddy.com through Google’s maps API.
Borrowing from a couple of “Top 10 Web 2.0 Innovations” lists, I have attempted to examine some of the applications/websites in terms of their potential for future localization.
del.icio.us is a social bookmarking tool. Everyone shares favorite URLs with their friends, so why not make a website where you can share your Favorites with the rest of the world? Yahoo! recently purchased it, and although Yahoo! isn’t as localized as heavily as Google, they obviously have an interest in markets beyond their front door. It stands a fairly good chance of becoming a localized application, or perhaps the similar existing Yahoo! application http://myweb2.search.yahoo.com/ will be.
netvibes.com is a personalized page to display your favorite newsfeeds, shopping alerts, weather alerts, etc. It looks to me an awful lot like my customized my.yahoo.com page, only the content is aggregated from any RSS source. I wasn’t especially impressed with it, but it bears mentioning because it is one of the only Web 2.0 apps I could find that has bothered to make an attempt at localizing its interface. If you click on the languages at the bottom of netvibes’ homepage, you will still see most of the content in English, obviously, because the sample aggregation is pulling in English newsfeeds.
flickr.com was cited as a top Web 2.0 app of 2005, even though it has been around for a while longer than just last year. Photosharing is pretty hot stuff with a lot of people, and flickr has an appealing interface. As an aside, I think that online digital photo-sharing is preferred by the hipper younger crowd, and am not sure why companies like HP continue to market photoprinting devices so heavily to this target market. Flickr is another cool web app purchased by Yahoo!, and I look for its interface to be localized in the next year or so. Native English-speaking people aren’t the only ones who take digital photos and share them with each other.
Looking for a light, online word processing tool that you can easily use to collaborate with other users? You have quite a few choices, and I predict that Google or Yahoo! will have an entire office suite of online applications in the not-so-distant future in an attempt to compete with each other as well as anyone else who makes an office suite. In the meantime, there are several online word-processing applications springing up : writely.com, writeboard.com, rallypointhq.com, zohowriter.com. The last one mentions multilingual support, i.e., you can write in your "mother tongue", however, once again, the portal and the interface are English-only.
In a similar vein, a few "online project management" suites have sprung up: basecamphq.com, centraldesktop.com, sidejobtrack.com. Once again, every single one of them has foregone the option of localizing the interface.
Like the multitude of blogging tools that came before them, these apps are used by multilingual users everywhere. It seems obvious to me that companies developing an application to be used by the entire world would pause to consider that most of the online world consists of non-native English speakers. If you click through blogger.com’s random-blog button, you discover that there are probably more bloggers writing in Portuguese or Spanish. Yet, after more than five years of existence, Blogger still has no localized user interface whatsoever. As an aside, Blogger happens to be owned by Google, which is highly praised for its localized site. However, looking past its search interface and the machine translation tool for websites, Google has failed to localize most of its tools http://www.google.com/intl/en/options/.
Hopefully, the case will be different for the more robust online applications that are popping up everywhere. The decision to localize a web application interface doesn’t involve the level of investment risk it once did. A successful web app localization requires a relatively small investment yet will dramatically increase use and exposure in major non-English language markets.
If the thin-client, online software trend continues (the bulk of the data processing occurs on the server rather than client-side) and isn’t simply a fad of online application gadgetry, then all of our beloved office tools will move completely online. At some point, this will have implications for the translation and localization industry, in terms of how files, translation memories and projects are managed, and how collaboration takes place across the globe on translation projects. Of course we already see this to some degree, but will this increase, or even become the norm? How do you see the technologies of Web 2.0 affecting/being used by the localization industry, if at all? Are we all going to be "Linked In" as one hive, translating mind?
However, the more pressing question as to how this new trend of applications relates to the translation industry is, why are so few of them being localized?