Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Localizing: an advertiser’s dream is a consumer’s nightmare

Personalization has forever been the dream of both advertisers and consumers. Those who sell products would love to target those most interested in order to sell more, and consumers love things designed especially for them. Personalization has always made people feel like someone actually cared to cater to them specifically even if it was a computer doing it. That level of personalization has reached new heights with the advent of the internet, where companies simply tailor everything to your tastes, needs, usage, etc. Amazon analyzes what you buy, what you wish for, what you’ve looked at and recommends things accordingly. The whole website seems designed “just for you” every time you visit.

I must admit, I personally love it. It’s quite useful to avoid all those extras and have what you want at your fingertips. When I access my bank account from my bank’s ATM, it’s personalized as well. I have specifically what I want on the menu, which adjusts in accordance to what I’ve accessed the most on it. The cash presets are those I’ve taken out most frequently, saving me time and hassle (not that typing in a number on a keypad is much of a hassle). It’s not something I necessarily needed, but it’s nice to have it either way.

In this personalized nirvana though there are a number of issues (apart from the possible privacy issues with companies or other people knowing too many things about your habits) that I’ve begun to notice, but the main one is one that has been rearing its ugly head all over the web: Localization.

What is it?

Lo•cal•ize [loh-kuh-lahyz]
–verb (used with object)
1. to make local; fix in, or assign or restrict to, a particular place, locality, etc.
–verb (used without object)
2. to gather, collect, or concentrate in one locality.

Localization takes something and tailors it to a particular place or location. This is excellent for advertisers as they are able to target their message to a specific city, state, or country so that it may be more effective and reach a relevant audience. It makes no sense, for example, to advertise air conditioners in Barrow, Alaska, though a flame-thrower and UV lamps might be a perfect fit. If you don’t really travel much or spend much time away from a single home, this works perfectly well and can be quite useful, but for those who travel often, have two homes in different places, it can be a bit annoying. Also, localization is often used to limit access to a certain technology, product or service. It’s also used in price fixing across different countries in order to charge more for a product in a place where they can afford it and lower the price elsewhere, blocking access to the cheaper price (thought to be illegal in some countries). This can be most easily seen in the regional encoding of movies which I’ve mentioned in other articles and comments here, where you can’t play a movie bought in another region. More on that further below.

Let’s begin with Language

Language is another localization which can be quite useful for people from a specific country. We’re used to english localization, and it makes sense considering it’s the most common language spoken throughout the world, after Chinese, of course. Having said that, it wouldn’t necessarily make sense in China (even if so many of them are).

The beauty of the modern internet is that many websites can read your IP and automatically determine where you are, selecting your personal language for you. This can be quite practical as you don’t have to go and look for the little flag or language button to find a language you understand or prefer. But what happens when that’s not the language you speak?

Most websites allow you to change the language, but some of the most important websites do not, or make it quite difficult to do so. As I’ve traveled and lived in numerous places, this has been one of the most annoying things to deal with. It’s a constant battle with the system to try and keep it in my language of choice. Something as popular as MySpace or even Google would be a constant battle, wasting loads of time trying to keep it in a language I can understand, sometimes having to guess where one can even change the language or country. Soldiers particularly struggle with this constantly as they serve in different places throughout the world.

This is where localization turns ugly and becomes a nightmare to users. The internet was supposed to promote this sense of a global village where users from everywhere could communicate with each other, where borders would disappear and products could be more accessible to people from places you could never reach before, and what not. Something called the “World wide web” might sort of have something to do with that thinking, yet if anything this web is entangling communication and destroying it as programmers insert more limits through localization and disabling access to products, services, and content.

If you sell it, they will come. If you don’t, they’ll pirate it.

As access becomes more ubiquitous, it has become more limited. Companies like Google have localized absolutely everything in order to provide the most targeted advertising (or supposedly “personalized” experience), but have also used that to block users to some of their services. Video services have traditionally been a great example (both free and for purchase) like those at NBC, SciFi, and scores of companies throughout the web (anyone from Europe and other parts of the world can attest to not having any movies or TV shows available for purchase or rent online in iTunes or Xbox Live - see my older article iPod - Where’s the Beef?) where you can’t access the content from anywhere except from the U.S. They read your IP and that’s it. You can’t even pay for the content to get it, not even using your U.S. Address, credit card or account.

The only exception to this is iTunes which still allows Americans to access the U.S. store from outside the U.S. and purchase from it as long as you have a valid U.S. address and credit card. You can imagine which service those who find themselves abroad will turn to for their content. Thank you Apple.

It’s not just Americans abroad but english speakers throughout the world that wish to enjoy their content in its original language. If you wish to experience it and wish to pay for it, sorry, but you can’t. I myself have found the Google wall or the SciFi Channel wall or Xbox Live wall when visiting other countries. For some reason content providers still don’t seem to get it. The users are certainly going to get it, and if it’s not sold to them, they’ll simply acquire it by other means (read Piracy). Many people don’t want it in the language of the country they find themselves in, and this even includes many locals of those countries. This market is not only under-served but being excluded altogether and being forced to pay a premium for the content in a language that isn’t necessarily their own (in case of travelers, students or ex-pats). Also, with so much of that same content localized, why isn’t it made available? If you’re showing the episode for free anyway on, why can’t everyone watch it?

I know I’m stressing the media content side, but I’ve also experienced it on the software or services side. It’s understandable that a little store in Birmingham, Alabama can’t serve or has difficulty in selling products to a guy in India, but digital content and services have no limitations except those put upon them by their masters.

The final nightmare

This is the ugly side of localization, which we have experienced for so many years on DVD, and which thanks to Blu-ray’s win over HD-DVD will continue to exist in that physical format. Unfortunately, the practice has moved over to the so called “world wide web” which is less and less world wide every day, as companies continue to bring down the world to just your door and control what you can do and watch or purchase and in what language. What should be a blessing has become a curse. What should be a dream, has become a nightmare.

What do you think? Have you experienced this while traveling, or while living or studying in a different country than your own?

Keywords: localization, customization, personalization, localize, customize, personalize, consumer, DVD, internet, web, websites, language, country, travel
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1 comment:

Franco Esteve said...

Localizing: Dream or nightmare?

What do you think? Have you experienced this while traveling, or while living or studying in a different country than your own?