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July/August 1998
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Multilingual Publishing on the Asia-Pacific Internet
By Madanmohan Rao

"The big driver of the Internet in India will be local content," Vinnie Mehta, deputy director of Indian industry group MAIT (Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology), said recently. Mehta’s concern reflects that of Internet analysts, forecasters, and practitioners across several countries in which languages other than English are spoken. There are five key drivers of multilingual publishing on the Internet: the need for localization, online news publishers, government concern, education, and electronic commerce. Although the original and key push for the Internet market comes from the United States, the percentage of U.S. Internet users as a percentage of worldwide users is dropping: from 65 percent in 1994 to 55 percent in 1997, and further down to a predicted 40 percent in 2000. What this means is that the proportion of non-U.S., non-English-speaking Internet users is growing rapidly.

Hence, many U.S. companies are realizing the need to publish Web content in languages other than English. Intel and Federal Express are two examples. Others are Cisco -- with online content in 14 languages for 49 countries -- and Netscape -- with 10 languages.

Governments from Japan to New Zealand to Andhra Pradesh -- a southern Indian state -- are venturing into multilingual Web publishing, with varying degrees of success. New Zealand hopes to attract tourists from Japan by publishing country-specific information in Japanese on its Web site.

Information related to health services is available on the Singaporean government Web site in English and Chinese. The Andhra Pradesh government site has a message from the chief minister in Telugu. Japan’s Ministry for International Trade and Industry has set aside an annual sum of 2.7 billion yen ($33.8 million) for Internet ventures, including publishing of local content on the Web.

Publishing online content in non-English languages is easiest in those languages that use the Roman alphabet -- for instance, Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia. Thus, newspapers like Berita Herian in Malaysia and Pikiran Rakyat in Indonesia are able to easily avail themselves of the latest in Web authorware innovations as well as local search engines and customization features.

The technical issues are more complicated, of course, for languages like Korean, Hindi, and Arabic, especially because there is no agreed-upon standard for computer representation of languages like Hindi.

In the area of education, numerous universities and cultural organizations around the world have launched initiatives to develop tools for multilingual publishing and give grants to local content publishers. Leading information technology giants like Microsoft Corp., for instance, are developing editions of their Encarta CD-ROM encyclopedia in multiple languages; the Japanese edition now comes with a Web site for online updates.

The drive for multilingual publishing is also coming from nontraditional media organizations like search engine services, Web directories, and new media companies. The Web index Yahoo! now has incarnations in French and Japanese as well, with online news provided by organizations in those countries. The Altavista search engine can handle queries in more than a dozen languages.

Other companies like Pointcast -- a Webcasting, or push service, provider for news and information -- is working on a Japanese-language and Chinese-language channel as well. Pointcast is obtaining advertising revenues for its online services from global and regional players like IBM and Acer.

Publishers of content in local languages are well-advised to keep track of global changes in the multilingual online publishing arena. There are many opportunities for tapping into alliances with new media players, resources from cultural and government organizations, and other multilingual publishing ventu

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