Localization in China

I am pleased to have been invited by John Yunker to contribute thoughts on the localization industry in China. I welcome your comments and suggestions for future articles. Here’s my first posting –

Four years ago, I was working for a localization company in Shanghai. One day, I received a phone call from a woman who said: “I read your advertisement about localization services. We’ve just moved to Shanghai and I was wondering if you could help find a baby-sitter for us.” This may sound like a strange request, but it was not that unusual back then.

Fortunately, times have changed, and quickly. China has become one of the most important regional markets in the world for multinational corporations:

  • 470 of the Fortune 500 companies have invested in China;
  • 750+ multinational companies, including Microsoft, Intel, GE, and Motorola have established R&D centers in China;
  • In 2006, 144 multinational companies chose Shanghai as their Asia-Pacific regional headquarters, while 36 chose Beijing. These numbers are certain to grow.

And then there are the 210 million Internet users in China, according to CNNIC, making the country an alluring market for any Web-based service or application.

However, Chinese Web users have proven to be very selective when choosing news, ecommerce, and networking products. More often than not, they are choosing home-grown products. For example:

  • Despite Google’s best efforts thus far, Baidu is still the number one search engine in China.
  • Sina, Sohu, and Netease remain the three biggest news portals in this market, and not Yahoo! China.
  • QQ is an IM tool developed by Tencent, a local company. It now has 160 million registered users and 50 million active users, greatly outnumbering the users of Yahoo Massager, MSN, and Google Talk.
  • Although MySpace has been successful in the States, it seems that Chinese people are more interested in local social networking sites, such as Mop and Tianya.

These few examples demonstrate the significant challenges that companies face when localizing for China. There are cultural, financial, and lingustic obstacle to overcome — many of which I plan to address in more detail in future articles.

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