Retrospective: Website Localization

Retrospective: Website Localization

Ten years ago, the dot-com bubble had just burst, and the business world was littered with the remains of internet-based companies that had become victims of their own success over the preceding decade. Web development budgets disappeared and international businesses beefed up their software and marketing materials instead. In the first few years of the 21st century, the localization world saw far more docs at this point, seemingly than ever before.

Prior to the boom, websites were fairly basic entities, mostly simple, static HTML. While web technology was just starting to mature, web localization wasn’t terribly common at that time, largely due to the lack of good international search results (or, for that matter, domestic ones…but SERP is a different story altogether). There was simply no way for someone in another country to find your site unless they knew exactly what to look for. Companies that “localized” their websites did so with virtually no ROI and no guarantee of reaching a global customer base….it was largely only for appearances.

At the height of the boom, around the early 2000s, more dynamic content started to roll in and the world of websites became more complex. One of the first web localization projects I remember working on was an airline booking engine built in PERL and CGI. Back then, that was considered hot stuff…but wouldn’t hold a candle to what we have today. Funnily enough, this was one of the first instances when a website was connected to a database — a fairly common tactic today. And you could forget about another fairly common (though now passé) technology: Flash. But, we did start to see the first animations and rollover graphics that paved the way for the more complex features we know today.

And then, in 2002, the bubble popped. As mentioned earlier, there was a dry spell as companies focused on other mediums, like documentation. As the industry recovered around 2007, localization fever hit hard and all of a sudden, engineers were overwhelmed with demand. International search became a mature tool around 2008, but the real driver for web localization was global SEM. Finally, localizing your website made sense, as a company’s international visibility increased.

Which brings us to today. Any global company knows the value of web localization and works it into a global expansion strategy. As long as another bubble doesn’t hit — and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a long shot — we should see a good number of web loc projects for many years to come.

Any other insights on changes in website localization? Let us know below!

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Smart, fun and useful. Acclaro shares news and tips on translation, localization, language, global business and culture.


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