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The language barrier August 23, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japan, Language.
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On the issue of the language barrier providing local companies to clone foreign sites and capture local market share….

There is many an IT startup in Japan whose business model is to clone an innovative or popular foreign site/service, whose local market adoption is hampered by the language barrier. (Other barriers do exist for some types of services and business models, of course)

Most startups where ever they are are usually subject to resource constraints which makes them focussed strongly on their local market and this allows copycat businesses in other locales. Licensing and partnership models have worked for some, but they also have their fair share of potential pitfalls.
There are efforts underway to bridge this gap.

The best way to tackle the problem is at the root, ie for the site to be designed as a multilingual site from the get go. However, such foresight (or suitable resources) is often lacking.
One of the more interesting is a FireFox extension called Japanize, which converts the UI to Japanese, and supports sites like Flickr, Riya, YouTube, Writely, and a lot of others. It allows registered users to assist in the UI localization effort, if you just want to use the extension, no registration is required.

This might be an easy way for non-Japanese UI site owners to give access to their sites, and would work especially well for sites which have little text content. (Beyond the basic UI, there are sometimes backend issues which need to be addressed to support Japanese (or multi-byte/Unicode in general) in data fields.

Writely has an English UI but allows Japanese entry, so this extension would provide an easy way to get an on-line word processor with a Japanese UI. Which might be useful for some Japanese users.

It would seem that this extension is plenty good enough to allow Japanese users to access non-text intensive content more easily.

The Japanize extension is another effort from the folks at Cybozu Labs, the R&D group of Cyobzu, a Tokyo Stock Exchange listed company known for its enterprise groupware offerings.

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