Henny Swan on the Web Standards Project (WaSP) posted a thought provoking article on Web Standards in China. It’s easy to get caught up in the mental box that everyone in the world is of Anglo origin, speaks perfect English and shares a historic socio-political heritage. The challenges for internationalisation and accessibility require us to leave that box. The truth is that most of the world is not us, if you’re another Anglo. US in the big sense has become a global audience with hundreds of languages and dialects, with the added complexity of conflicting cultures.
If we really want to get passionate about web standards and producing quality products in the web environment the conversation has to be initiated about internationalisation and ways we might overcome these global audience limitations.
In Henny’s post she points out some huge barriers to the adoption of web standards in China including 95 per cent usage of Internet Explorer 6, most ecommerce sites rely on Active X, and the Chinese have a lack of high quality translated resources for web standards developers to reference. All valid. Another large part of that issue is the cultural and semantic differences between the language and people, which means not only literal translations of websites and resources but also some low level repurposing. And, when you really think of it, these are also subject to political oversight – consider John Oxton’s Joshuaink a few years ago. Web standards resources may not all be smiles and culturally polite cafe conversation.
An interesting facet of how we can deal with Chinese web standards is through the expatriate Chinese communities. In Australia, for example, Chinese is the second most spoken language (in general terms). Do these communities develop websites? Are we already working with them? Do they blog in English, Chinese or both? As a catalyst this would be my considered focus for promoting web standards development in China.
These communities understand dialect, culture and share family bonds to a degree we could never offer. The multicultural societies we exist in, recognised for the resource they offer, can provide much of the answer to Henry’s post. We have to stop looking past other cultures within our society and embrace the idea that internationalisation and localisation are a part of the web right here. The world isn’t out there anymore. A combination of multiculturalism and the World Wide Web have brought everyone to everyone’s doorstep.
Please, pull off your culture-blinkers and look around the streets of whatever city or town you live in. Look at the people you work with and the faces in elevators. Drop the boxed idea that we’re all Anglo, or European. Many are African, Asian, South American. So if our own societies are multicultural then why do we keep ignoriing internationalisation in our everyday work? The 2001 Australian Census [PDF 19KB] identified that 66% of people in Sydney spoke only English at home. Leaving 34% of the city primarily speaking non-English or at least being bilingual in their own comfort zone.
So the issue of promoting web standards in China has a wider question attached to it. How, as web standardistas, do we promote this idea that the websites we build for a local audience also need to serve an internally international audience? And how do we interconnect that internally international audience with their own cultures to spread those methodologies they’re adopting? Because, as I mentioned, simple literal translations are difficult. We have different business cases and value systems. Authentic Chinese / Indian / international writers need to be pushing the information out.
Richard Ishida’s @media 2007 presentation Designing for International Users: Practical Tips (available for download as audio and with accompanying slides) presses a few of the complexities that translation involves. But, and this is just my opinion, this shouldn’t be about us translating for them. Translation? Our immigrant populations need to be included in our heterogenous social networks. I say it again, we need to step out of this box we inhabit that insists that society is like us… that paradigm is letting us down.
For web standards to push resources into China, and elsewhere, we need to utilise the natural bridges of information scent within our reach. Long journeys start with small steps.