Like the subject it reports on, Mary Meeker’s latest report on Internet Trends is about a lot of things. But my takeaways from the report are simply these three below. They are not statements from her report, but what I learned from connecting the dots between the Internet, technology, and content – and thereby also translation.
- Internet growth will piggyback on smartphone adoption rates.
- Content will be one of the primary drivers of smartphone adoption rates. But for content to be relevant and scale to meet ever-growing demand, it must be translated. So, think content, think translation!
- If A=B and B= C, A should be equal to C. That is, if Internet growth (A) is dependent on smartphone adoption rate (B), and if (B) is dependent on translation (C), we could posit that A = C.
I’m not a math expert, so let’s not pull apart an apparently simplified formula. The gist of what I’m trying to say is local language content is related to smartphone growth is related to Internet growth.
Allow me to elaborate.
Internet Growth Will Piggyback on Smartphone Growth
Look at the following slide from Meeker’s report.
It tells us that smartphones have achieved a penetration rate of 76% among Internet users, but only 30% of overall mobile users are smartphone users. It’s easy to see that the next round of growth in Internet users is going to hinge on the pace at which feature phone users will switch to smartphones.
Content Will Boost Smartphone Adoption Rate
What are the three big stumbling blocks to smartphone growth? Or, to put it in another way, what will motivate the feature phone user to become a smartphone user? Three things:
- The cost of the device itself.
- The cost and availability of the data pipes – an Internet connection.
- The availability of relevant and in-language content.
Circle back to Meeker’s report from last year, where she considers content to be so important to the Internet that she includes it in the Internet trifecta. Community and commerce are the other two components.
Content is what draws users to smartphones, whether they’re creating it or consuming it, whether it’s a news item they’re reading, a video they’re watching, or pictures they’re sharing from their recent vacation with their friends and family. And, because the smartphone is a primarily personal device, content relevance suffers if the content is not in the user’s language.
To Sum it up: Translation Powers Content Powers the Internet
Local language content is necessary for the Internet itself to thrive. On his trip to India last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a $1 million contest for app developers in India to develop apps in local languages. At about the same time, Google also launched its Indian Language Internet Alliance. Both of these efforts were meant to boost the production of local language content.
The time for multilingual content is now. Over the years, humanity has taken many little steps and used technology to make the online world reflect the reality that we are multilingual and that we love to read, talk, write, and transact in our native tongues.
Operating systems, browsers, mobile handset interfaces, desktop and mobile applications – the whole bunch of gadgets and software we use in our daily lives – are now available in many more languages than they were even five years ago. And, they’ll only be adding more languages in the future.
Technology has also transformed how companies translate. In fact, the translation technology space has seen its own little revolution in the past few years. To the uninitiated, translation technology may bring Google Translate or Bing Translator to mind. Yes, machine translation will have a serious role to play in on-demand communication, but I refer to something that’s perhaps not yet captured public imagination as much, but is equally critical.
I’m speaking of translation management systems that support human, professional translators, who translate website copy word-by-painstaking-word with the help of tools like translation memory and term bases. These total translation environments have brought such speed, ease, and flexibility to the otherwise tedious and glitchy enterprise translation process that they really merit a slide in Meeker’s report. They’ve also put companies that use them ahead in global growth.
The excuses are running out for monolingual companies.
One More Thing: Global-First Is Not a Choice
It hasn’t been a choice for some time now. But if your company is still debating the move to go global, consider this:
The global Internet pie has grown bigger. But that’s only because all regions of the world are increasingly becoming a part of the global economy. Gone are the days when it used to be the US or Europe where the trends were being set, where money was exchanging hands.
The changes are happening elsewhere today. The ‘Western’ world is finally and logically not at the center of the world. In fact, more and more, we understand today that no single country or region will continue to dominate international commerce forever. No, not even China. That calls for a whole lot of changes in the way we do business, but primarily it reminds us that companies really have no choice but to be global enterprises.
Because, global is where the market is. Global is where the story is unfolding.