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As the Internet Becomes More Global, Language Matters More than Ever

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Mary Meeker's annual internet trends report was released recently, and as in years past, it highlights the fact that the internet is becoming increasingly global. As companies race to keep pace with the globalization trend, their attention naturally turns to the number of languages spoken by their increasingly global customer base.

In her 2013 report, Meeker pointed out that nine of the top 10 global internet properties were based in the United States. The list included, in order of ranking: Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Amazon, Ask.com, Glam Media, and Apple. As of January 2013, these companies reported that 79 percent of their users were based outside of the United States. The only non-American company to make the list in 2013 was Tencent (China), which ranked #10 on the list.

Fast forward to March 2014, and the picture looks quite different. Only six American companies remain in the top 10. Apple has dropped off the list, along with Ask.com and Glam Media. They have been replaced by Alibaba (China), Baidu (China), and Sohu (China), all of which are slightly ahead of Amazon, now occupying 10th place.

As companies in North America and Europe try to keep pace with the shifting global tide of the internet, the languages they offer to global customers are changing significantly too. At Smartling, we track analytics on global and multilingual content growth across our entire customer base.

Over the past several years, we've noticed a strong upward trend in the amount of content that businesses are offering in other languages. Also, the sheer number of languages they are translating into is steadily increasing. Our latest data on global content trends shows the following:

• The average volume of content translated grew by 88 percent in the past 12 months
• 50 percent of companies are translating into at least six languages, which is double the number of languages they were translating into one year earlier
• A full quarter of companies translate into 15 or more languages
• Some companies translate into as many as 60 languages
• 46 percent of all companies translate into French, Italian, German, and Spanish
• 62 percent are translating into Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, while 22 percent translate into all three

The top three companies, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, remained unchanged in their ranking from one year to the next. While it's obviously not the only factor in play, all three companies pay very close attention not just to geographic trends online, but to language trends.

For example, as I mentioned in Found in Translation, the number of languages offered by Facebook represents 90% of the world's population and 95 perent of people with access to the internet. When Facebook launched French, its number of users jumped from 1.4 million to 2.4 million in three months. After launching Italian, the number of users in Italy jumped from 375,000 to 933,000 in four months.

As more people come online in various parts of the world, leading businesses will remain in a constant race to keep up with the languages needed to reach the same percentage of potential customers they reach today. Those companies that offer content in other languages will build and retain a strategic advantage over their competitors in the race to reach more global customers -- just as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are already doing.

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