As an European, I have followed the development of Internet and the Web for a long time. When the web started, it started out in English. Yes, its right, we had a couple of pages in Norwegian too, but back in 1994/1995, if we wanted to be international, we made the web-pages in English before even thinking about making Norwegian or German pages. And everything was fine.
Me, I was blind until last summer - when I moved to France. I thoughtI would get along fine with enough French to order a beer. Boy - was I wrong. Internet in France is French, French, French. Ive learned the same applies for Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan. The same thing applies to Norway, Sweden, and Finland. And this is why we need to take action today - to meet these markets requirements.
Just have a look at these facts - and I am not lying here (Source:Global Reach): Back in 1995, around 80% of the languages used on Internet was English. Today, only 51% of the languages on the Internet is English. Japanese, for instance, is way high with 8.1 %. In Europe, there is a potential of 320 million people. Importantly,more than half of these do not speak English. As of today, there is approximately 70 million people online in Europe who do not speak English or is not native English speaking. Add 18.5 millions who speak UK English - you have then 100 million people online in Europe alone that do not speak US - English.
Do you dare to shut them out of your web-site? Then add Asia with a number of online users of 50 million - and fast growing! Add Latin America with Spanish and Portuguese - another 10 million - expected to increase to 45 million by the end of 2002. So its up to you to do the calculations. Let's just say you are shutting out as much as 50% of your potential revenue today by shutting out the non-English. How much are you loosing tomorrow?
So what I did was to build a software solution for web-site publication in more than one language. My clients now are able to publish their information in whatever language they like (well I have not yet tested it with a non-Latin font - must be neglecting the markets again). The principle is simple - let the visitor select the language. Make your website available to the local visitors by adapting it to the local visitors habits and preferences.
How do you find users in other countries? They use the big American search-engines and indexes, right? Yes. And no. Research shows that people prefer using their local search-engine. That is why Yahoo, AltaVista and the others are getting local. And when getting local - you need to speak the tongue. Again, translate your website to make it possible for your visitors to find you among the billions of pages out there. Even a blind man see that this is more expensive then just keeping the old simple one-language page. Of course. Then again, remember today - 50%. Tomorrow? 30%? 25%? Who knows? Can you afford not to get yourself connected to a network of professional, international web-site builders and promoters?
Kai Roer is the founder of Roer.Com, a Norwegian Internet solution provider. He is an expert on the European Internet Market and offers all the services needed to establish a Multilanguage website.