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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Automatic Localization aka Fix It Again Tony

Localization is a good thing. Giving people possibility to use an application in their own language is even better. I know it. My native language is Polish which is known by much less than 1% of people around the world so it’s never even a secondary language for application developed anywhere abroad. Fortunately I can live in this big scary IT world since I can deal with English if I try hard enough.

However there are a lot of people who can’t or they just prefer to use the application which talks with the same language they used to say “mama” for the first time in their life. That’s why this whole localization thing is considered as important from time to time.

And we come to the problem what to do once you have your localized GUI ready. Basically you don’t just want to have just another branch of resources to maintain, do you? You want to show your users a masterpiece you’ve created while working on localized version.

So you automatically turn on localized version for each IP you identify as the one incoming from the country using this specific language.

And this is plain stupid.

Remember the story of Blogger when I was trying to publish a blog post while being in Austria? They automatically switched the language which I definitely didn’t want them to do. Now I know Google Analytics has Polish GUI. How? They automatically switched it. Twice. Without even asking me whether I wanted it or not.

Actually I didn’t. Why? Well, if you ask me what the hell “wskaznik odrzucen” is I can’t say anything more than you even though I know Polish pretty well. I just prefer to stick with English terms I’ve already used to.

Once I saw localized labels (which I didn’t understand) I instantly found settings just to find out the language is already set to US English. What the hell? Finally I got my English version back. Unfortunately last time Analytics greeted me once more with my native language. Hey, does anybody messed with my Analytics settings? Nope, I’ve just checked – the language is still set to US English. So… what the hell?

This reminds me a story why there’s no Fiat, which is one of the biggest Europe car manufacturers, in the US. They started with poor quality cars so the company name quickly became an acronym for Fix It Again Tony and finally they abandoned US market deciding the bad opinions are unfixable. Most likely it won’t happen again with Google but sometimes they try so very hard to repeat Fiat way.

A much better choice is to display a message “Hey, now we have brand new English version of our app. If you want to use it click OK, otherwise click cancel.” I can even live with seeing the message a couple of times before finally it baggers off as far as no one is going to automatically change languages of my apps. This is by the way the option which was chosen by Facebook when they were inviting Polish version of their site. I stuck with English one but somehow staying with the old option didn’t forced me to write a rant about that, which is a good thing I guess.

in: user experience

2 comments… add one

  • Anonymous October 9, 2009, 5:26 am

    It's way worse than just a nuisance. Google and others (mostly American companies) regularly manage to insult their users by ignoring local sensitivities.

    For instance my Belgian Flemish friends, even though they speak French and are in no way anti-Wallonian bigots, feel insulted when they are automatically presented with a French interface. Because it sends the message "your native language is inferior". Nobody likes to told that.

    Personally, it pisses me off when I type google.com and it sends me to the Dutch version anyway. Like I'm to stupid to tell google.com and google.nl apart.

  • Pawel Brodzinski October 9, 2009, 6:14 am

    I guess it's always even bigger problem in countries where there's more than one official language. I haven't even considered local sensitivities but indeed these can make the whole thing not only annoying but also insulting.

    Somehow I don't expect huge players to focus more on the aspect. Maybe they just consider the majority will be content and they cant satisfy all.

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