Since the end of 2009 the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has approved the use of non-Latin domain names for websites. The Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), has allowed top-level domain names to use non-Latin characters. This means that companies are able to use Japanese, Arabic, Chinese and so on characters in their domain name. This change has pleased many, and was seen as the opening of the World Wide Web (www.). This change will be beneficial for small companies while these companies can reach there target groups, which most likely will be locals. To multinationals it will not be as beneficial as the will have to pay enormous amount of money in order to protect their domain names in non-Latin characters. This move will also influence the Internet market on design and how to build a website and products to accommodate the different markets. This includes the extra cost for language, symbols, layout ect.
In this paper one will see on the one hand the Homogenisation and Globalization of web design, web communication and web services that leads to extract efficiency savings from economies of scale.
In this paper we have the following dilemma holders:
Managers vs. Clients
Managers want simpler processes —– Clients want more targeted products
We see that managers want to keep the processes as simple as possible while complexity of the processes will lead to more errors and points of improvement. This will lead to higher costs. The other dilemma holders, the clients (end users) want the greatest range of possibility. They want the products to be as targeted as possible so that their wishes and needs are completely for filled. The managers obviously want to satisfy the customers needs but up to what cost? Because at a certain point the manager cannot offer all the services while being profitable at the same time.
The Root Causes
Web interface design over the past few decades has been fostered and developed in western markets, with traditionally little consideration to other cultures/markets. Now, with the growth over the past decade of Internet usage in Asia of 568%, Africa of 1,809% and the middle east of 1,675% web development & design may either push the homogenization associated with globalization or localize product development to adapt to the inherent heterogeneity of cultures.
Web interface design characteristics to be considered are the visual representation, multimedia, colour, navigation, layout, content and structure, links and language (Hsieh, 2009).
For example, different colours in different cultural settings are associated with different significance. In most European cultures black is associated with death, whilst in Asian cultures death is associated with the colour white.
Additionally, consider page layout. In most western languages, the page is read from left to right, top to bottom. But many languages are read from right to left (Arabic, Hebrew, Javanese), and some even from bottom to top. Some languages like Chinese, Korean and Japanese may be written vertically as well.
Consideration may also be given to the multimedia types for a website. Internet connection speeds and cost per megabyte vary across countries and particularly between developed & developing nations. Delivering high-end media content to developing African Internet markets may be unachievable. Whilst Western websites may appear comparatively dull in their media content compared with Eastern sites aimed at markets such as Japan (av. internet speed: 64mps) or Korea (46mbps).
Finally, and in reference to the case given (see Appendix), web URLs traditionally use Latin characters in their addresses – but over the past few years the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has moved to open up top-level domain names (i.e. .com, .org, .ru) to be written in non-latin script (i.e. .?? – Russian Federation). In May 2010 the first non-latin URLs were created in Arabic – benefiting Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
There are many pros for opening up the Internet Domain Names (IDNs) to non-Latin script – as most of the world doesn’t use Latin based alphabets. But it presents an issue for international companies. Spend money buying domain name translations of their company websites (possibly having to pay premiums to scrupulous individuals who quickly bought up potentially profitable domain names) or stand by their existing Latin based domain names – saving money but potentially loosing out to competitors.
Already large companies are forced to buy a large range of variations on their domain names (e.g. ‘.co.uk’ , ‘.nl’, .fr’, ‘.cn’ etc) and with 100,000 characters from 15 different languages being added, the variation become immense. Estimates for complete global URL registration are as high as $100,000 (Jeff Lapatine – group director of naming at the branding company Siegel+Gale).
Charting the dilemma
We can understand the dilemma as the trade off along two axes
For managers it is important to get it their way as this will result in lower cost, while there are less costs to be made in producing and running the websites. But is also a lead to increased economies of scale, which means that with the websites the have they can provide a service for a large amount of people at a low price. Having less websites to control, as only Latin characters can be used simplifies the business processes. Simple business processes also contributes to less complexity.
On the other hand there is also a negative side for the managers. This is that they might loose out on potential market share to domestic firms who are culturally sensitive. So the multinationals loose market share to the smaller more cultural sensitive companies. For customers and clients the positive side in this case will be the lower production costs. As less money is spent on website. So eventually it will be more affordable to customers. The negative side for this group may be the difficulties in usability. For example if a native Chinese person who speaks, write and reads mandarin he or she might have difficulties with the mostly English sites of multinationals.
So what happens if customers get it their way? The first positive outcome for customers and clients is that the culturally sensitive websites are easier to use. So the usability increases and this will obviously satisfy the customer more. This is because the language and script of the webpage will be easier to understand. Also there are multimedia advantages. So the loading times will be less and better media when one lives in a high speed area. While the customer and clients get more relevant and targeted information he or she can make a better purchasing decision. This will satisfied the customer more.
Clarifying the trade-off
The purpose of the following section will be to show the trade off frontier that exists between the two dilemma holders. The previous section outlined two axes that the dilemma operates on – one for each dilemma holder. Using this graph form we can create a trade off frontier as illustrated below.
For the purposes of stigmatizing the extreme positions along the frontier, 3 points of interest are marked, and will be explained in the remainder of this section. It is to be noted that in fact none of these points are an ideal situation.
The point (0,10) describes a situation in which websites and web process are designed for purposes of economies of scale, one single websites is designed and is used for all target markets. In this most extreme form all content, language, context, media and processes are identical. There are many such websites which use this model, see case example box below.
Case Example: New Scientist
The New Scientist website (http://www.newscientist.com/), the online complimentary product to the New Scientist magazine has the same layout regardless of which country it is viewed from, and all articles are written in English. The website is run by New Scientist which is a company located in London, England.
The website pulls around a large amount unique visitors per day, from a variety of different locations. The graph below shows traffic and some location examples.
Point (5,5) describes a situation in which a level of cultural sensitivity is drawn from. This will normally take the form of translated content on websites. This is difficult to do from the perspective of the organization, particularly if there is a great deal of content to translate. For example this would be difficult for websites like the New Scientist case (but not impossible) where there is scientific content that requires proper translation. One example that could be used to describe this point would be that of Google’s search homepage, see case example below.
Case Example: Google
Google’s search homepage is constructed in such a way that it will detect the location of the user. This is done by detecting the Internet Protocol (IP) address for the user and then matching this address to a look-up database of countries. This procedure isn’t perfect though and will depend on the quantity of database entries and will also be fooled by PROXY servers (such as used by AOL). This information is used by Google to use a different language set for their web service. It is also used to direct the user to the appropriate top-level domain name e.g. google.co.uk, google.nl, google.fr, google.it.
What makes this process easier is that the Google search page design is incredibly simple and completely identical for all countries. This is therefore a mixture between standardised design and processes and cultural sensitivity.
Finally if we examine the (0,10) point, which describes a situation which there is complete cultural sensitivity and no degree of bowing to homogenization. In reality, this position is very rare and is difficult to find examples of a perfect match to the 0,10 scenario. In this situation, individual websites would be created for each country/culture and these would be completely independent of each other. This position would be so costly that it would simply not be done, particularly with the web technologies that would facilitate a (10,10) position, which will be explained in the following section. One example that is close to a (0,10) solution could arguably be Coca Cola’s websites, see example case box below.
Case Example: Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola has a myriad of websites specifically designed for a variety of different countries. For example:
http://coca-cola.co.uk (United Kingdom)
These are just some of the examples, there are many more but it would be impossible to fit them into this report. Coca-cola retains its marketing colours of red, white and black through all of its websites, so the websites retain an overall “coca-cola” feel to them. This is obviously good marketing, but it can’t truly be a (0,10) solution.
Making these websites for each country would be incredibly expensive, and only viable for a company with a marketing budget that is very large. The need to do this reflects Coca-Cola’s “personal product” brand image.
As stated in the beginning of this section, none of these positions are ideal, but they serve as an example of the trade off that is perceived between both sides of the dilemma. The best solution would be a reconciliation and a 10,10 solution which benefits both parties.
Reconciling the Dilemma (the 10,10 point)
Many websites fall somewhere along the trade of frontier identified in the previous section. But the reality is that recent web technologies allow for increasingly more front-end flexibility (i.e. what the user actually sees), whilst centralizing back-end activities. This technology would allow for a company to dynamically adapt their content. One technology is that of Content Management Systems (CMS), there are a variety of types available and relatively low costs, even free open source systems. One such system is Joomla (http://www.joomla.org/), a dynamic portal engine and content management system.
A CMS would allow in-effect, the same basic underlying content to be displayed in a variety of different ways depending on the users preferences. A base template may be created, and then parameters within the templates (colour, text direction, multimedia quality) can be adjusted to suit the user. The whole system can be managed in a back-end administration panel, simple to use by anyone (not just programmers). This would keep the costs down for management, while giving the appearance of culturally sensitive web design.
It is likely that many small to medium businesses will use this Web 2.0 technology in the future.
Developing Action Points The following section will outline the path in which a company developing a website should take if they choose the 10,10 solution. Firstly, actions steps are given, followed by methods of measuring success, and finnaly a way to sustain and increase the path.
In order to design culturally sensitive websites, and implement them we should perform the following steps, given in the following list.
- Identify target markets/cultures.
- Perform market research pertaining to:
- Language + script
- Colours and meaning
- Cultural interests
- Design a base template for a CMS that can be dynamically modified
- Design a database that holds information from market research
- Use CMS to detect user location and choose template overlay.
To measure the results of the implementation certain qualitative and quantitative methodologies may be used, they are listed below.
- Use feedback forms on the website for customer opinions on usability and sensitivity.
- Measure increases in usage from target markets.
- This can be in the form on page hits or unique visitors.
- Also track any increases/decrease in successful purchasing/revenue generation in target markets
Finally to sustain the reconciliation processes, and improve the end product the results gained the measurement process can be fed back into the Action Points 2 and 4 to create a continual improvement loop.
CNET (2010), ICANN Approves non-Latin domain names, Retrieved 11th June 2010 http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10387139-93.html
ICANN (2009), Proposed Final Implementation Plan for IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process
Hsieh, H., Holland, R., Young, M. (2009). A Theoretical Model for Cross-Cultural Web Design, Human Centered Design 2009 p712-721
The Economist. Change in Addresses. The Economist Newspaper Limited. 13th November 2009: online edition