Circos Brand Karma

Official Blog of Circos

What does it mean to localize?

with 9 comments

We’ve been fortunate to localize one of our products, meferral, into Simplified Chinese less than a year after releasing it.  I think the term ‘localization’ gets thrown around quite a bit in the tech world, especially in today’s global economy, so I’m writing today about what we’ve learned about localizing a web application into another language.

I think the biggest realization you have when you start localizing a web application is that it involves a lot more than just translating all of the English words on your web site into the desired language.  We’ve learned that there are several important steps to good localization:

Product Preparation – just because you want to offer your product in a new language doesn’t mean it’s ready for the people who read and speak that language.  So it’s important to take a step back, look at your product and feature set, and try to understand how it will work for the users you’re localizing it for.  This involves a bit of product management and even marketing.  It’s easy to say, “we’re localizing our product into Simplified Chinese, so it will be used by people in China,” but obviously you need to figure out much more about who your users are.  It’s almost always necessary to have someone in your company (or someone you can talk to) who reads and speaks the language of your target users, so that you can better understand what their needs are.  After considering all this, make the appropriate interface and feature adjustments to your product so that it’s well-suited to the users and language in the market(s) you’re targeting.

Technical Preparation – this is often the most difficult step, as you need to make sure your product is prepped to handle multiple languages.  For languages like Simplified Chinese, this means making sure your database can handle double-byte characters, figuring out the relationship between the existing English version and the new localized version, and preparing strings for translation by moving them into string tables or XML files.

Translation – I think this step is often the first to come to mind.  After moving all of the interface and content strings into a file, find someone who knows both languages to translate everything.  Often there are thousands of strings, so this can be a time-consuming step.

User Interface Adaptation – different cultures have different standards for what’s expected in user-interface design and information architecture.  For example, we learned that our English interface for meferral was too simple for Chinese users, who expect a lot of content on each page.  So it’s important to review the interface with some beta testers in the target demographic who can tell you what works and what doesn’t.  Additionally, sometimes translated words end up looking a lot longer or a lot shorter in a different language, which impacts the look of links and buttons.

Reviewing and tweaking – after everything’s been translated and loaded, allow time for a comprehensive review to fix translations in the context of the site, clean up the translated UI, and fix any other issues which tend to come up.

Hosting – if you’re launching a site for users across the world (and across one of the oceans in particular), it’s often a good idea to setup a hosting environment in the local market.  This improves site performance dramatically.

Support & Maintenance – once you have a site with registered users in a local language, you’ll need people who can respond to support issues, either by phone or email.  Again, this is where it’s great to have bi-lingual people on your staff.  Alternatively, you can partner with a company in the local market who can help you manage support for your localized site.

So in summary, localizing is a pretty big step to take when you consider all of these components.

Our first localized version of meferral will be launching very soon – needless to say, we’re excited to see all of our work come online.

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Written by mario

June 18, 2007 at 8:59 pm

9 Responses

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