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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Encyclopedic Internationalisation

Over the past year I’ve worked on a few projects involving various aspects of internationalisation and localisation (often abbreviated to I18n and L10n). There’s a load of information out there from the W3C and others, but I always like to refer to solid real-world examples rather than rely purely on specs and articles.

Luckily it seems Wikipedia has tackled the practicalities of web internationalisation (with over 100 languages they had to) to produce just such an example with I18n touches such as:

  • Full use of Unicode and UTF-8 encoding
  • Right-to-left content with rearranged page layout (e.g. see the Farsi version with the navigation on the right)
  • Sensible linking to different languages (unlike that stupid J.K.Rowling site), using the language to describe itself in the link text plus a Latin-alphabet tooltip for languages with non-Latin alphabets (e.g. hover over some of the languages halfway down the home page)
  • A message on pages using characters which may require the user to install special fonts, leading through to a clear explanation of the problem and solution (e.g. see the Hindi version)
  • Markup specifying the language not only of the page, but each piece of content within the page (view source and look for the lang and xml:lang attributes)

Of course, Wikipedia supports multiple languages rather than specific geographical regions, and has a clear factual purpose, so it’s not subject to the same pressures as most commercial entities. If you’re selling products to different parts of the world then the message and presentation need to be carefully tailored to suit the audience and avoid embarrassment. That means fully involving people who are immersed in the culture of the locale and having the humility to listen to their advice.

Anyone know of any other examples of I18n best practice? Most multinational organisations seem to be making little or no effort to use the right techniques (Google, for example, is hopelessly bad, not even bothering to specify the language of each page).


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