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Done right, website localization involves extending brand voice and all its attributes to leverage common content and shared assets such as style guides, glossaries, formal terminology management, and, of course, smart software to automate processes that keep global sites correct, current, and consistent.
But what about extending that to a local experience across multiple written, spoken, and visual channels as required by each country and level – informational, localized, or hyperlocal? That means supporting content, shared assets, and technologies across those foreign-language channels as well as in your home market. The number of permutations by country, content type, dialect, and sector complicate the omnichannel approach to global business.
Comprehensive localization is tough enough today, but the combinations of omnichannel customer experiences will multiply if top-of-the-news advances like Web3 and the metaverse succeed. How would the successful adoption of these future webs affect your localization plans?
Web3 Changes the Paradigm of Content Ownership and Value
Web3 is usually mentioned in the same breath as “cryptocurrency” but let’s keep our Ethereum in our ledgers for now. This next-generational web is a reaction to the Big Tech middleman model of the current Web 2.0 “web as platform” – that is, today’s software applications rely on a central database app owned by a single company (think ByteDance, Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, Twitter, and YouTube) that serves as an agent between users.
Simply stated (perhaps too simply), instead of that centralized database, Web3 apps and services work with a decentralized server and a blockchain to establish content provenance and ownership. In case you’ve somehow managed to avoid the hype from “blockchain bros” (lucky you!) the blockchain is a ledger or historical record of the tokens exchanged in transactions in a peer-to-peer network, one that allows users to buy and sell things without going through a central database.
Web3 proponents like investor Li Jin argue – perhaps with a little bit of hype – that “web3 has the potential to unlock incredible opportunities for everyone who contributes and creates on the internet: a true Golden Age of content that we’ve all been looking forward to.” How will this philosophical pivot of Web3 from corporate servers to open protocols and community-led infrastructure affect the language services and technology sector?
- Creators selling their masterpieces will need translation to reach global markets. By eliminating the middleman, users gain control over the content they create – fiction, how-to videos, poetry, paintings, photographs, whatever. The blockchain lets them directly monetize the content they create in the form of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) that represent ownership of digital (or even real-world) assets. Once creators benefit directly from their oeuvre, they may choose to invest in premium translations that allow them to market their art more broadly. That benefit and opportunity extends to corporate, NGO, and other content creators as well.
- New infrastructure will create more demand for language services. Crypto development attracted more than US$27 billion in venture capital in 2021, with most of that money going to build Web3 decentralized apps. While there is some awareness of the need for translation, if history is any guide, you can expect that a lot of those V1.0 products won’t be properly localized or internationalized, much less have local UIs or support. Similarly, the various blockchain servers will have to be enabled for global content and made to comply with local regulations. At least some of them will have to be completely recoded as a result. Once the infrastructure pieces are in place, application development for supported locales can begin and content can be translated, thus creating more demand for LSPs and other specialized providers.
The Metaverse Brings Virtual Interaction to the Web
In contrast with the decentralized Web3, the metaverse is not a major philosophical change but more of an evolution of today’s web with an interface that immerses you in a virtual reality. Meta describes this VR world as a social platform in which people interact via an avatar or digital facsimile of themselves – if they’re wearing the right web-connected headsets or gain entry through portals. A physical connection to the virtual world is essential – an intermediate step on the way to the metaverse is the integration of the web with devices like a McDonalds’ ordering kiosk whose “phygital” interaction involves its own physical device connected to the digital web.
In one sense, the metaverse represents “just” a new presentation layer for the web but we hear echoes of earlier stepwise innovations that turned out to be very disruptive. Fifteen years ago, Google engineers were working on Android, but the iPhone beat them to market by a year. According to some accounts, they dismissed iOS as just a presentation layer – nothing like the superior operating system they were building.
However, from the perspective of customers accustomed to flip phones, iOS seemed revolutionary rather than just an incremental UI change. Something similar may be going on here. From an architectural perspective, the metaverse isn’t that new – VR app Roblox premiered in September 2006, while Minecraft was initially released in May 2009. Both apps have millions of users, but they’re early-mover niche games compared to the metaverse promise of immersive cyberspace built on the same virtual reality principles.
Today, the metaverse has a lot of investment, energy, and excitement around it – not to mention its share of naysayers.
- The metaverse creates new opportunities to sell gear. Importantly, it is somewhere new for hardware, software, service, and communication suppliers to market and sell. That’s especially critical now as the economic climate darkens for the Big Tech companies overall and for Meta in particular due to the assault on its ad revenue. Thus, we see a lot of marketing pizzaz as the first wave of truly mainstream VR gear hit the market last month with Meta’s latest headset at US$1,500 and Sony ratcheting up production of its offering for gaming. Apple, Google, and even eyeglass-maker Luxottica have plans for high-end metaverse goggles.
- The merchiverse will follow. Beyond VR headsets, the metaverse offers potential revenue growth for technology and service suppliers to build a more immersive experience, including localized ones in markets where the bandwidth can support the simulation. To help sellers meet that goal Hogarth Worldwide announced its Metaverse Foundry as a way for companies to offer branded VR experiences on the web. Companies hope to make money in the merchiverse of digital goods, NFTs, and physical items purchased online.
- And it will be global. This virtual market will extend worldwide, with the requisite need for translation, interpreting, and other language services. It will extend to animations, visual assets, and 3D models that today are not familiar to most LSPs.
First-movers to that global virtual market are the four Gs – gamers, governments, guns, and god. VR gaming had a first and Second Life, the metaverse is its next incarnation. Some governments have gone all in on virtual worlds, with Seoul and the United Arab Emirates setting up model cities. The U.S. military, long rumored to be one of the biggest buyers of Oculus headsets, is building its own metaverse. And religious communities foresee an immersive faith-based virtual reality.
There’s a fifth G – virtual ground. Following the lead of the 1992 novel that first mentioned the metaverse, Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash,” investors are buying up prime real estate in the simulated worlds. And as Stephenson foretold, the metaverse is filled with people speaking other languages – many needing real-time translation or interpretation. Some applications are tentatively moving towards a metaverse-type experience with online conferences where you can watch presentations, ask questions, and meet with others for networking/chats.
How Web Innovation Could Expand the Language Market
Neither Web3 nor the metaverse are sure things –they may go in directions different than those anticipated by today’s proponents – but they do answer market growth concerns by bringing in users, opening global markets, and jump-starting a wave of global business.
Web3 involves rethinking operative principles about the internet, along with fundamental architectural changes to decentralize. The metaverse, more about presentation than infrastructural change, brings with it design, interface, and hardware requirements. Both add new challenges to organizations operating internationally. Once you factor in multiple locales, dialects, personalization, and other complications, Web3 and the metaverse together represent scores of opportunities for LSPs and langtech ISVs to assist them in their support for brave new virtual and multilingual worlds.