The Web Globalization Revolution: A Look Back at the Language Growth of eBay, Coke, Amazon, and Others

Sometimes it’s difficult to see a revolution when you’re standing right in the middle of it.

Which is how I still feel sometimes when it comes to web globalization.

Every year, companies add, on average, a language or two to their websites. And while one or two languages may not seem all that “revolutionary,” over a number of years, the growth becomes significant. Particularly when you take a ten-year perspective.

Shown below are eight of the hundreds of websites that I’ve tracked since 2004 for the Web Globalization Report Card. Note that English for the U.S. is not figured in these counts.

language growth chart

In 2004, eBay supported just 9 languages; a decade later it supported 25.

American Express went from 24 languages to 40.

Coca-Cola went from 26 languages to 43.

Apple has more than doubled its language count in that time as well.

Like Apple, most companies more than doubled the number of languages they support over this time span – and not just the companies listed here but a good number of the companies in the Report Card.

As for Amazon, it too doubled its support for languages but remains well behind the pack in linguistic reach. The nine languages represent my tally from early 2014, when I argued that Amazon had taken its foot off the web globalization pedal prematurely.

Now that Apple is selling digital media in more than 50 countries, with Google close behind, I predicted that Amazon would again invest in global expansion. Sure enough, the last half of 2014 saw Amazon launch websites for Brazil and the Netherlands (shown here), with additional country websites likely to emerge in 2015. netherlands website

Are you part of this revolution or just a bystander?

This rate of language growth underscores a point I often make regarding website translation – you need to think about “scale” as early as possible. That is, will your global template easily support different languages and scripts? Will your workflows, management structure, vendors, and software scale from supporting one or two languages to 20 or more?

You may be planning to add only one additional language this year, but as this chart demonstrates, you may be adding 20 languages over the next ten.

The Internet connects computers, but it is language that connects people. There is indeed a global revolution going on all around us. And if your company is not part of this revolution, steadily investing in language growth, it risks being left behind.