The Next Billion Users Part 2: Localization is (a lot) More than Just Language

Search Options
Blog Search
Sign up for our monthly marketing trends enewsletter
  • 1/29/2019

    This is continuation of “Performance And Progressive Web Apps.” Before you read on, let’s refresh your memory on part one, click here.

    Let’s pretend that you’re an English-speaking Canadian citizen and that you’re visiting Spain. (Unless, it turns out that you are, in which case there’s no need to pretend.) You’re visiting a website in a local internet café, and the content is complex beyond your ability to translate it out of Spanish, you’d prefer to use the site in English. You look in the footer, and find icons of flags: that of the United States, France, Spain, Japan, China and Russia.

    In most situations, despite this being a poor experience design, this has no real consequences for users. However, what happens if the site uses your language selection to make assumptions about your citizenship or location? With the arrival of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, as the first of possibly many extraterritorial pieces of legislation, country – and possibly countries – of citizenship now must be considered separately.

    True localization is complicated. It has the potential to change not only how content is expressed but also what that content says and even more fundamental behaviors of the site. It can affect which pieces of content are relevant and which products are available.

    Embracing the next billion users means introducing a great deal of diversity into your audience. There will be more languages, more cultures and more countries – and in more combinations – than ever. Here is a short, and probably incomplete, list of internationalization characteristics that could potentially affect site content and behavior:

    • Language 
    • Current location, to comply with local laws - and to offer useful and relevant information
    • Countries of citizenship, to comply with GDPR and the new potential class of extraterritorial laws
    • Cultures and/or religion, to avoid taboos that could offend your audience

    The common solution to the localization problem posed by GDPR is to require users to tell us whether or not the regulation applies to them. This is completely disconnected from the rest of the system’s profile of the user. While at first this may look like a missed opportunity to derive this information from location and language, that would be a very imprecise approach in a case where precision is necessary. A better measure might be to collect information about citizenship and then use that as a flag for whether consent under GDPR is necessary, at least until you consider that an individual can be a citizen of multiple countries, and asking users to identify their citizenships immediately might seem a bit strange. Ultimately, the common approach might be the best.

    Does this mean that every possible characteristic must be considered as a separate field every time, with no inference or derivation? We don’t think so, but we would urge caution when considering which characteristics are grouped together, why, what specifically is being inferred, and the possible consequences to your users of being imprecise.

    Do you have a theory on the next billion users? Share in the comments below.

    Need insight on website develeopment or related, contact us here.  
    About the author::Benjamin John is a Senior Lead Front-End Developer at thunder::tech. He's responsible for programming interactive user interfaces and developing production processes. He enjoys creative problem solving and appreciates a clever riddle.
  • Getting Personal with Data
  • 1024
  • Episode 94 - Trends Volume 10: The Era OF GDPR
Sign up for our monthly marketing newsletters