Skip to content

24 ways to impress your friends

Putting the World into "World Wide Web"


Comments are ordered by helpfulness, as indicated by you. Help us pick out the gems and discourage asshattery by voting on notable comments.

Got something to add? You can leave a comment below.

Dustin Diaz

Molly, I think you’ve touched on a subject that it alone stands by itself within web development. I can see how a web development company can spend all its time on just “Internationalizing”.

As for the masses, it’s been pushed aside (myself included) because we don’t care about any other audience then our own local environment.

You hit it right on when developers ask themselves “What character set do I use?” and that’s the extent of our work on internationalizing.

Color usage, component placement, photos…those are all super important and go beyond a developers scope. I’d be willing to say, developers just don’t know how to do that! By all means, you need a cultural anthropologist to nail that correctly.

Aside from the Yahoo! China deal that happened not too long ago (the story where we looked bad), The China Team has really been doing an excellent job on making Yahoo! an excellent portal to the web. They’ve done what it takes with many months and years of research and testing to make a good internationalized website. Hats off to them.

The BBC website as you’ve pointed out is also a great example. Just comparing the two next to each other shows that someone had Intl in mind.

Great thoughts Molly! I hope this topic goes beyond just the 9th day of advent

Thanks for bringing that to everones attention. I find it extremly difficult to get people to understand the concept, that other countries do things differently. I am a foreigner where I live and was brought up in a multicultural community back in my home country.

Now you would think that the differences between Germans and British are not that great, but they are very deepfounded. I am helping a few people at the moment to expand their market into Germany from here and it amaizes me how they want to apply British techniques to German people.

Just to illustrate one major difference (look out for the same in other countries too) Streetsigns in Germany tell you where to go. In Britain they tell you where not to go.

Not a big deal really, but it tells you of basic difference of how they were tought to think from an early age on.

Patrick Griffiths

A great primer about a really interesting, often overlooked subject.

The W3C definitions seem a bit long-winded though (W3C long-winded? Never!). Can’t we just say “Internationalisation” is “to make international,” which, in terms of web design, means making your content/design/etc. as usasble as possible for people from different nations?

But here’s a pedantic point – is “internationalisation” even the right term to use? We certainly should (and do, I think, hence the pedantry) read “international” as meaning “all encompassing” rather than the literal translation of the word. In this day and age countries, particularly in the “Western” world, are very multi-cultural – would multi-culturalisation be a more relevant term than internationalisation? As an example, the Arabic version of BBC News clearly isn’t aimed solely at people who live in (or are even from) Arabic-speaking nations.

On a personal note, the thing I find most interesting about internationalisation isn’t so much language, or even design issues, but content. Most of the things I read on the web are USA-centric (and, I’m sorry to say it, it seems to me that American writers tend to be less internationally-aware (or accommodating?) than those from elsewhere). Expecting someone to know about this or that is often taken for granted, especially if it is firmly entrenched in a person’s culture, which is, quite understandably, subjective. I was listening to an American podcast this morning in which the DJ was relating a point to an American TV show which I had never heard of, let alone seen, and therefore, being a born and bred Brit, I didn’t understand her point. One of the great things about the interweb is that we can reach an international audience, but it can be difficult to shake off our own cultural, national, and even regional familiarities and assumptions – and there are inevitably lots of them (and it’s great that there are so many cultural idiosyncrasies around the world, right?).

Abdelrahman Osama

Great post Molly.

I see the last 2 points “Using symbols, icons and colors properly” and “Choosing appropriate references to objects and ideas” are very important and brilliant points.

Thank you Molly and Thank you all guys.


There is a video icon at the top of the left most column in the arabic site image as well as symbols for pictures, video and also popup content.

As you explore the site, the use of symbols and icons also increases, I imagine the lack of the world graphic from the former image is probably a result of the prior localisation choice.

At the time of writing, there is certainly an increased use in symbols on the site.

Thank you for highlighting this area of development, it is certainly an important one for sites with an multinational audience.

Raffaele Esposito

I put the world into thanks to server-side programming, users can select and change the language from each page.

At the first visit the browser language is recognized and the site is shown in that language, if it’s available; if it’s not, english is default.

Numbers too, of course, are formatted according to local systems.

But I made a big design mistake which gives problems sometimes: I used local encoding for each language instead of Unicode for all; to fix this now would mean to encode all the texts published by users into databases…

So, if you design something similar use UTF-8 encoding!

Mr. Khmerang

Important stuff. However I believe that as a person (or designer) of western upbringing it is impossible to see the sites like somebody from another culture would see them. A great internationalization needs people with different backgrounds. I always found it fascinating how the most popular Chinese sites (, for example) look really cluttered and lack of white space in my eyes, though guessing from the popularity the Chinese crowd finds them nice.

Christian Montoya

@ Mr. Khmerang: You are exactly right, I know some Chinese and Korean students who have told me that those kinds of sites are exactly what works with them. I think that the only way to do localization is to get the help of someone who understands the culture you are designing for. Assuming that the standards of Western design apply everywhere else is a big mistake.

Something I’m interested in is techniques for serving up text in multiple languages. As in, rather than just publishing multiple copies of the same page. If anyone has examples of doing this with a database or otherwise, let me know.

Shanghai Fan

I’m going through this at the moment by waiting for my W3C Internationalisation Membership to be excepted and also following the issues mentioned above as I’m creating English and Chinese sites from one template.

Hope something can be brought out to help us soon.

Also I agree with the comment about Sina and other Chinese sites!


When dealing with internationalization, it’s also important to know which things DON’T get translated, like some brand-related words (usually company name, sometimes product names): In the above example, obviously, “BBC” remains unchanged.

Interesting, though, that the tab labels did not get translated.

J-P Stacey

Useful to bring the cultural aspects of international design to the fore: embarrassing cross-border gaffes made by big-name brands have passed into folklore. I’d not noticed the contrasts within the BBC’s family of sites before, or at any rate that they had cultural significance.

One thing important to note is that there are really no hard and fast rules here: the audiences of different sites will have different mixes of cultures, and to apply a lowest common denominator to them all is safest but often means throwing the baby out with the bath-water e.g: scrapping iconic visual shortcuts, even though your site’s particular mix of cultures could happily accept some carefully chosen pictorial icons; or using blue for all your livery and making bits of the site difficult to differentiate.

As Mr. Khmerang might be implying, should this be considered a component of usability testing? For a site to consider itself truly international, should its testers be taken from a multiplicity of cultures? More radically, should its coders and designers be chosen on that basis, given that the earliest you can consider these things, the easier it would be to implement them? (Can that be even done, given employment and discrimination law?)

Steven Clark (aka nortypig)

Yes like many I’ve run across this and then later dropped the ball. I did some work for a Japanese NPO for free last year but the complexity of internationalization was far more intensive than I’d first imagined. Much much more than the character set in fact. And beyond the technical you have the whole cultural divide to at least consider.

But the fact it is a World Wide Web and no longer can we think of it as American dominated. We need to be considering the customer in China and Eastern Europe and Beirut as well as the local market – who may still be non-english speaking by the way. In my opinion this is the unsung frontier of accessibility we’re talking about here. The challenge for anyone who wants to make money in the future might just be how well we can deliver this solution to international audiences.

Nice article Molly.

Raffaele Esposito


If you use a server-side language, such as PHP pr ASP, you can store all the words, phrases and sentences in dedicated files, one for each language.

Then the real pages simply contain the variable names.

For example, we’ve 3 files

1 ‘it.php’ with the following variable: $greet=”ciao”;

2 ‘fr.php’ with $greet=”salut”;

3 ‘en.php’ with $greet=”hello”;

And the page index.php only contains the variable name $greet. The right lang file is loaded according to the language selected by the user.

That’s the system I use on my portal (the code is open source; you can study it and use it).

I hope this helped

Impress us

Be friendly / use Textile