I’ve spent the last few days in classic, end-of-year ‘take-stock’ mode: reviewing projects and deliverables; making lists and notes; planning for the coming months; and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. As part of this effort, I’ve put together this ‘Dot-Connection Year in Review’, which I’d like to share with you here.
Global content and country sites: consulting and project piloting
Though all projects we were involved with had some element of global content governance, two assignments in particular focused exclusively on it. These were for B2B companies in the fields of technology and biotechnology, and the goal of the assignments was to:
- establish rules around global and local content (who gets to publish what, where; what can be changed/removed/locally-produced, and so on);
- improve information and publishing flows between central and local teams;
- improve visibility and access to localized content;
- improve transitions between sites and languages.
If you’re using geographic attributes and values to meta-tag your content – country, let’s say — you have to ask yourself: are you tagging this content item as ABOUT this country, or FOR this country? Or both?
Usability expert Jakob Nielsen just wrote an Alertbox column entitled ‘Why Country Sites Are So Bad’. Given that much of my day is spent listening to the pains and frustrations of country website managers, I read his column with great interest.
It starts off with a two-line summary:
When a multinational company produces a localized country site, usability is often lost.
How true, how true. But then,
Local advertising agencies design good-looking sites that don’t communicate.
Hmmm…. My experience with multinational websites is that there is often a global template that countries have to adhere to, whether they like it or not. I keep reading.
If you are a company with a multi-language and multi-country approach (what I call the global reach, local touch model), then localizing websites which share a common language presents a particular set of challenges. These challenges have come into sharp focus since Google announced new markup in early December, the rel-alternate-hreflang tag, so that it can more easily serve users what it might otherwise deem duplicate content, in the right language and for the right country.
I went to a lot of conferences last year, but this keynote presentation by United Nations News and Media Director Stephane Dujarric stood out. I’d been wondering if lessons from a sprawling intergovernmental agency would apply to my world, which is essentially B2B. Well, they do: that’s why it’s my highlight n°2 from 2011.
Stephane Dujarric is a former ABC reporter and currently the director of news and media for one of the most sprawling seas of bureaucratic acronyms you could imagine: the United Nations.
He was at the IABC Europe conference in Turin last April to deliver a keynote talk entitled ‘Bartering for Communications’. It was based on a single premise: that working through partnerships is the only way to have real impact when you have limited resources but something to ‘trade’ (in this case, the organization’s global reach and legitimacy).
While I was curious from a purely intellectual standpoint about what would he would say, I wasn’t sure how much of it would apply to my mostly B2B world. After all, the UN has communication challenges that most of us don’t. (Few of us have as a mandate to promote world peace and security, for example.)
I thought I’d start my blogging year by sharing just three things that I found deeply interesting last year, and that resonate with me still, several months later. This is the first of three posts (the other two will be post before the end of January*).
The first was a presentation given by Asanka Wasala, a PhD student and localization researcher, at the Multilingual Web Workshop in Limerick in September. Entitled
‘A Micro Crowdsourcing Architecture to Localize Web Content for Less-Resourced Languages‘, the presentation grabbed my attention with the first two slides.
Take a look at them. The first is a tag cloud of the most common languages you’ll find on the web. Note the extraordinary place taken up by English. Now look at the second slide: that’s a tag cloud of the smaller languages on the web. Notice how many of them there are. In fact, many of those languages are not only under-represented on the web, they’re barely there at all.
I’m getting ready to spend three days at the biggest web conference in Europe, LeWeb 2011, to be part of a liveblogging team for Orange.fr. I owe this opportunity to a stroke of good fortune, for which I’m truly grateful. It’s not everyday you get to mingle with the movers and shakers of SoLoMo (that’s social, local and mobile, THE hot topics of the moment), though I think you have to take the word ‘mingle’ with a grain of salt as there will be about 3000 people there.
I came to the web from content. For years, I was a copywriter, writing all sorts of things for print: articles, speeches, brochures, reports – that was my lot. Then, in the late 1990’s, companies decided they needed all this stuff on the web. So I came to the web from the world of content, and I discovered a whole new world.
As a content person, I regularly rail about the lack of consideration ‘web folks’ give to content. It drives me nuts to hear people talk about how they need an app, or a mobile site, or a new game – when they haven’t given a moment’s thought—no, that’s not fair—they haven’t given enough thought to the content they will need to make those sites and applications come alive.
It’s only words30 nov
You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say
It’s only words, and words are all I have
To take your heart away.
The Bee Gees, 1966
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of words ever since I came back from the Content Strategy Forum in early September. (I’ve also had this song as a soundtrack I can’t seem to get rid of, thanks for Forum speaker Eric Reiss.) But in fact, that’s all I’ve been doing: thinking about it, mulling it through.
Then, this weekend, I came across a post in my twitter feed: On writing simply and saving the world economy (sub-head: Is corporate gobbledygook the cause of the economic apocalypse?). Two hours later, on public transport, I came across an older post by @krismausser on the Business value of words, where gobbledygook is once more singled out, maybe not for the economic crisis, but for undermining our ability to communicate with our customers.
It struck me that this was a recurring theme at conferences and seminars I’ve attended recently – regardless of the subject. It started with the CS Forum, where raconteur extraordinaire Gerry McGovern made his case: it’s not content, not even sentences, but words—individual, single words– that make or break our websites or our apps.
There is something in the content strategy and web community known as the “11th hour sh*tstorm”. You know: that moment two weeks before the go-live date of a major website redesign when people are scrambling around like crazed chickens because they have everything ready – except the content.
Well, if you’re experiencing storm problems with your content, or suffering from related ones — lack of governance, no maintenance, rework, too much content, lack of purpose, and so on – you’re going to have them to the nth degree if your content needs to be in 5, 15, or 40 languages.
Localizing websites and web content is hard work. It can be costly, time-consuming, and a logistical pain in the butt. It creates complexities all over the place: for information architecture, SEO, look and feel, your CMS, and your infrastructure. And it’s made that much harder when you’re working without a content strategy.
In less than a week, I’ll be attending Content Strategy Forum 2011 in London. I’m very excited about this conference, for three reasons:
Reason #1. Last year’s edition was a milestone for the content strategy community. It was the world’s first dedicated conference on the subject, and it was in Europe—Paris, in fact. I took it as a sign from the heavens because it was held at just the time I was kicking off of my own consulting practice in the field. Kristina Halvorson, whose little red book has become a bible, was there to give a keynote and a workshop. And I discovered an entire community of kindred spirits. So, obviously, I’m looking forward to v2.