How to make / get normal people to see your technology
I have added two updates at the bottom – generally I don’t like to edit old articles, but in this case I do feel a need for clarification in the sense that this article is not just about translation and that I would like to see everything in German. It is more about missed opportunities due to the fact that you might overlook what is really happening in your market.
Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, blogs about the difficulty of getting people to see their new technology and programs. I feel his pain. When I was in Montana I met people who hadn’t heard of blogs, podcasts, or Second Life (or even Windows Vista). You know, normal people. People who have other things to care about than what is on TechMeme.
It is not difficult. It is about how you address things to the normal public and where to spend your money.
Normal people for example don’t care what one website says about a product, they still want the clue on paper or in their television ad. They will buy (and therefor before be exposed to) what their friends talk about. And if you go out of the Valley and even the US, you will probably find that people in other countries do care about so different things, you don’t even think about. One reason they do? Because they don’t get to know at all about ‘your product’.
Take for example Google Spreadsheet. I tried it but exactly when hitting the third key it already made me close it again: I use my numeric keypad on the side. And we do use a comma instead of a point for numbers. Does not work in there, is not even configurable. Is that important? Well, probably not for you, reading this in English. For me, it is.
Talking about the latest TV Shows and how you can download them in itunes? Well, not over here. So why should we talk about this in the media and why should newspapers pick this up? I love West Wing, but it never ran in German television and never will. Like oh 80 percent of all TV shows?
Flickr? Well, the interface is not in German, so why use it instead of some nicer German websites? Yahoo and all those web Web 2.0 applications? All of them focused on the American market. On the English market. Why use them / talk about them etc when you alienate us from the start?
Coupons! Free SMS! Free Skype calls! Free this and that to buzz about? All for American market.
I think I just found the reason why the hell I cannot active voice recognition in my tablet. Because the German version does not allow me to do this. I need to have the German version in order to have support for the time I want to use it in German, but cannot use this feature at all even if I would be to use it in English. I cannot install several applications because of the limitations to English tablet versions – they never care about the rest of us but they do care enough to make sure we cannot use it.
There are not many tablet users in Germany, but many may be interested in using one. I could be a blogging about how happy the tablet makes me, but I have to admit, I cannot. Because it does not let me do the stuff I want to do – and therefor I do not expose my peers to it.
I will not blog much about Flickr, because it uses English and all the help and exposure I could give would be irrelevant because I would need to do translation as well.
I will not blog much about Google Spreadsheet, because the first thing people will notice is that you cannot even start to use it for German calculation.
I will not blog much about Office 2007, because it is unusable for me and I also assume that I will not be able to even install it without bigger problems on my machine.
If you look at my examples they may sound non relevant, but they are little step stones toward a bigger picture: We do get used to ignoring you over here because you don’t care about us. And while we are busy conducting our lives, you bring one firework after another – just on the other side of the earth ball.
In the meantime, a total copycat of Rocketboom will receive honorable awards for being innovative – just because it is German and most of the public here has no clue about what is going on on the outside of their language realm. People like me who are interested in this technology will do follow it in English but as long as nobody pays me to do so, there is only a limited amount of time I will invest on doing translations and bring the information into my home market.
You want people to adapt technology an learn about it? Well, do it in a way they understand and on a scale they will take notice. Which means: Speak in a language they understand and in ways they will care.
To use the real spoken language as a divider: German Podcasting and video casting just received a boost and I will go so far to say it will impact the European as well:
German chancellor Angela Merkel will start video casting a weekly podcast.
If you are American, this may be nothing new to you, but there has never been a regular announcement like the weekly radio address in Germany from the chancellor. This is huge. And they do a nice job as well in starting to explain Podcasting to the people. And just in case you care: They do a good job not using iPod somewhere there.
German as well as other Europeans do not tend to favor the iPod, there are a lot of mobile phones and other mobile players. I am betting on Nokia to sell more mobile players to Germans than Apple in iPods.
Oh and in case you cared: Germany has about 82 million inhabitants, as well as other countries around it speaking German. We do have money too.
Update 1: Eric Schwiebert has a nice look into why it is not easy to make internationalized versions of for example MS Office. Which btw is a product which is *very* well localized in most aspects I can think about. That starts with nearly the only usable spell checker and goes to a lovely list of sticker vendors for your mass mailing. Because you do buy Zweckform in Germany and not – insert your local provider of sheets of sticker -.
If you are interested, you should also read the follow up examples on Robert’s second post, especially that quote from Paul Morriss:
The smart companies will be making sure their software works in China ready for when its economy overtakes the US
Of course you should not optimize for China, because then this side of the pond gets left out again. ;)
Update 2: I don’t like to edit old articles, but in this case I do feel a need for it. A lot of people refer to this article being about translation only: It is not. If you read the examples and comments below you should see that while it is also about translation of software, it is mostly about localization. It is also not purely about “i want to have a localized, German version of everything” but about broaden your understanding of how people outside of the US perceive applications on and off the web.
As many of you only seem to care about money, let me put it this way: The date example in the comment is a perfect example of how to screw me as a non American on those websites. I will spend this year some serious money for flights, hotels, and the rest in the US which I do book in great part over the net. I nearly screwed up more than one time in booking those, just due to the fact that the presentation of the date. There are many more examples where companies in the US make it hard even for the fluent English speaking, credit card owning geeks.
If it is hard for such people, how do you imagine it is for normal people?
Given the often argument in other blog articles and comments by mail that it is natural just to concentrate on your home market, I think it is not. It is very short sighted. If this articles boils down to something, then it is one of my favorite quotes: It is about being ready. And the other one: Make it easy for me to shop.
Wanna see the impact on making it easy for people to shop? Do research the numbers of Harry Potter books sold on their first selling day. Not the translated ones, but the English version. Stating their press release, Amazon reported over a million pre orders for the English version for release date. Now guess the number in this not English speaking market of Germany, where we are reluctant to speak English and people like me are seen as an alien when they tell about their English adventures.
110K copies have been preordered in Germany with Amazon. (Btw, I wanted to write 110.000 because that is how we separate thousands.)
I do absolutely understand why you say it is easier to do it in your home market, because that one is so huge. But, as we say in German: You lie yourself into your pocket – you do fool yourself.
Many products and especially the web 2.0 ones are not sold to 280 million Americans but a subset of them. I would love to interview somebody from think geek and alike on how much money they make in the home market and which out of the country.
As said in the comments: Today it may seem like a good idea to only focus on the ‘home market’ because it is easier, better, what ever. Look back 5 to 10 years and try to imagine how the future is becoming globally.
[ Thank you for reading an article done by a person sitting in Germany (probably in a different time zone) with her credit card next to her because she just started booking her hotels for the next trip to SFO and just did some research on local shops she wants to visit and spend money on (because they are too stupid / too expensive to deliver me the stuff). ]
Tags: european view