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Internationalize Web Apps: Yes or No?

For our web application one of the things we want to do is provide international support. Languages and support for overseas. We would probably focus on South America or European countries first, and then expand from there. It would be something we do after gaining some momentum.

I wrote about this after I returned from Brasil, and observed the huge market down there. I couldn’t figure out why more companies don’t do this.

By Chris Tingom

Principal of Tornado Design, a Phoenix, AZ based web consultancy

12 replies on “Internationalize Web Apps: Yes or No?”

Those numbers in your last article are interesting, looks like a huge market to tap into. Most probably don’t support it because you need a support person with each language, hopefully in their native timezone, and all the added words in there for the interface.

If you can take care of that, why not?

I think it’s a smart idea to consider and build toward, but I believe it’s an even smarterplan to understand the complexities of globalization before heading off into it head first.

Here’s the question for you — With the knowledge you have now, would you internationalize your business if you did something other than build web apps?

Yeh, it’s just a web app, but I’m sure you know as a designer and developer that more damage and frustration has come from statements that contain “..it’s just a…” and the well known fact that it’s the simple things that always turn out to be the most complicated.

Hi, well, since I’m in Brasil I can say how many times I get pissed of beeing blocked of some sites ( like yesterday I found out I can’t use the new iTunes download cover feature, because I don’t have a ITM here, even if downloading cd covers have nothing to do with buying stuff ).

And a proof that this works, is google’s orkut, which we are the biggest country there.

This would be a great topic for SXSW or one of the Carson Workshops. Bring in someone who has done this to talk about how it is done, the complexities.

I agree that the support aspect is the most cost prohibitive.

Dude, I work for a company where we make kiosk software. Our clients could be anywhere, infact it looks like we may obtain a client in Vietnam. Because of this, we load in lits for everthing. Nothing is hard coded in english; we use XML files to hold all the lits.

That’s awesome! And the best thing is this: if someone finds a client and the language isn’t currently supported, whala, you just add it in.

When I was in Brasil I logged into Gmail and the login screen was in Portuguese. I thought this was really clever. Obviously ip address detection.

Yeah, it’s kinda funny too, because when we do demos we use the Google translator tool to create the lits for us. But, it often does a horrible job so the locals laugh at some of the translations. We later get someone who speaks the language to fix the lits…

The one huge hurtle to expanding languages in your app is that it will greatly increase the cost of development. Internationalization is very expensive, but it could totally be worth it too.

Don >> “expanding languages in your app is that it will greatly increase the cost of development”

This is not my experience at all. How hard is it to load in lits for different languages. Not hard at all.

The hardest part, from my experience, is typically you have limited real estate on a screen and this can make it hard depending on the language. For example, let’s say you have a sales total area. In the US it may only need to be so big, a large total could be $10,000 but in Mexico that could be 100000000000000000000, so because of that you have to leave that much real estate for such things. Then in Japan you have kanji characters to worry about. You will definitely start to design differently when you think about such things. Also, be aware, some fonts won’t translate.

What is a lit? I localize software and I’ve never heard that term. Is it specific to your development environment?

We use language or locale to refer to each supported language.

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