August 12, 2004

The Brazil Effect

The rise of the Brazilian internet community has been widely discussed lately, particularly because of how it's impacted the Orkut and Fotolog communities.

There's a Reuters story from last month about the issue.

I'm fascinated with this phenomenon. I'm glad it's happening, and I suspect it will be like this forever. Brazil this year, who's next year? Americans are already just another minority of the world's total internet user population. According to this site, native English-language speakers using the Internet number 287 million, whereas non-English speakers number 516 million.

But think about this for a sec: you don't see any articles about Americans descending in droves onto Brazilian websites, taking over their online communities. Not many Americans know Portuguese. Funny how people in other countries learn multiple languages, and are able to proficiently use an English-only website such as Orkut or Fotolog. (Why is it, in America, politicians and pundits portray language proficiency as a negative, as unpatriotic? I remember in college, you could take Fortran and it would qualify as your second-lanaguage requirement. What a joke. Fluency in multiple human languages is a great and valuable skill. Perhaps America will finally discover that as the century wears on.)

For my own startup, I'm thinking seriously about the Brazil phenomenon and what it means for boosting the priority of internationalization and localization (or "I18N/L10N" in Netscape-speak). You can't count on everyone being able to read English. Can a web company today afford to turn away potentially thousands or millions of customers simply because the site is limited to English? Used to be, I18N and L10N were version 2.0 / version 3.0 features... now web startups need to seriously consider making them 1.x features, if they want to stay competitive and be prepared to support the embrace of a global internet user community.

Posted by brian at August 12, 2004 09:53 AM

Comments

1.x is actually too late. You have to think about I18N/L10N the VERY FIRST DAY or you're already seriously behind. This ranges from using unicode internally (if applicable) to storing ALL strings as localizable resources.

This is an acquired skill, like writing portable code. It used to be that writing portable code was a skill reserved for those folks who worked at multi-platform companies; now it's almost a requirement if you want to be considered competent. Writing I18N/L10N should be the same way, and probably will be in the years to come.

Posted by: Michael at August 12, 2004 08:44 PM

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