Build international Web sites — but be cautious

Web developers face overwhelming frustration when creating Web sites targeted at international audiences.

This was brought home to me during CNET’s Fall ’98 Builder Live conference. I had the opportunity to host a panel discussion on the issues around international markets, and while the panel did not deliver a single solution, the fact that the session drew a standing-room-only crowd demonstrates that this issue is top-of-mind for many developers.

What the panel did deliver was a list of some Dos and Don’ts and a few watch-out-fors.

The first and most obvious Do was to start offering Web sites in languages other than English. With approximately 42 per cent of Internet users employing a native language other than English (according to, it’s time corporations and Web developers started paying attention to the issue of language.

Once an organization makes the decision to offer its Web site in a variety of languages, there are several don’ts to watch out for that can help make your on-line offering a better international hit.

The don’ts when it came to offering alternative languages were:1) not to use any of the currently available translation software as your only source for translation; and 2) don’t assume, just because someone knows a language, that the person is an effective translator.

The panellists were quick to point out regional issues in language, which included phraseology, spelling and grammar variations. What might read well in Spain will fail in Chile, for example. Katrina Teague from the U.S. suggested using translators who live in your target area, and panellist Philipp Gysling from Switzerland added, “Do a reverse translation to verify that content translates back properly.”

Fortunately, the Internet makes it easy to get translations done from anywhere in the world.

When it comes to linguistic differences between distinct regions and countries, it was suggested to use flags as the language indicator instead of a language option (i.e. Spain’s flag vs. Chile’s flag to indicate which version of Spanish is being used, instead of offering “Espa