Yesterday I wrote I didn’t like web sites that use your browser settings to change how a page appears. Let’s look in further detail at different localization/internationalization practices by some international web sites.
If your browser is French, Lycos will pull you automatically from www.lycos.com to www.lycos.fr (now at least they got the difference between France and Germany). I consider that very bad since Lycos France has a specific URL, and it’s not the one I typed. There’s not even a way for me to opt out, I’ll need to type or follow a link to www-english.lycos.com (link at the bottom of Lycos.fr) to get to the US-based English version I wanted in the first place.
It’s even a more awkward thing to do considering a French web browser might be used by a non-speaker (say an American using a public computer in a Parisian webcafe) or by a non-French francophone. Just let people choose the right site (see the Buy.com country selector) and use different URLs for different countries or languages, but just because you can doesn’t mean it’s right.
Yahoo! is less intrusive. Sometimes they show banner ads in French at yahoo.com to advertise Yahoo.fr, thus leaving it up to the user. Some are even funny, such as the one that says – in French of course – “struggling with English? go to Yahoo!France”, or another asking: do you want to Yahoo! with me tonight? (very French indeed.)
Yahoo! will also target specific sections with French banners, such as this one that says: “all the American stocks without moving from Yahoo!France”. They think I might want the same content within the French version and inform me they have it, but don’t force it on me.
05/21/03: Google Introduces Geolocation “Extreme Version”
06/04/02: Monster.com country selection (triggered by my French browser.)
05/21/01: Why is Google displaying in another language when I didn’t set any language preferences?
10/31/00: I just found a best practice at microsoft.com: http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/ takes me to a page that proposes the US, French and Swiss pages. However it’s an isolated case on their site, since more url guessing directly took me to the US site.
To wrap it up: browser settings don’t tell you anything about the user’s intents – language and country are two different things – don’t force anything on visitors based on assumptions – international web usability raises some specific issues.