To meet a growing demand from international enterprises and event organizers, virtual event platform providers are focusing on support for multiple languages within their core platforms. Some providers launched langugage support during 2008 – while others are focusing their efforts around language support in 2009. Some providers support single byte languages, while others support (or plan to shortly support) both single byte and double byte.
Language support is clearly a relevant and important feature to have in the platform. But for me, language is just the beginning. It’s the pouring of cement into the foundation of a house – something you need to start with – but then build upon. The focus today is on supporting a core set of languages. Once this foundation is in place, I believe that in the near future, the new focus will shift from language to culture.
In the West, “real world” meetings between business partners will often begin (or conclude) with a handshake. In other cultures, the extension of a hand (for a handshake) may not be culturally acceptable or of proper etiquette. It’s my belief that as we extend meeting and event interactions online, culture remains nearly as relevant as in the real world. And, culture can often span multiple languages or dialects – so again, platforms will want to focus beyond support for individual languages.
What might be some examples within the virtual world? Well, let’s take text chat for one. In the West, we grew up using AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, etc. – and we likely use it in a business setting as well (e.g. AOL IM, WebEx Connect, Lotus Sametime, etc.). Other cultures may be less inclined to use a chat client. Perhaps they want to connect with each other using SMS on their cell phones. Perhaps they like to chat in a large group (e.g. group chat) rather than private chat. Or, perhaps text chat is not considered meaningful, whereas webcam communication (a la Skype) is the norm.
Whatever the case, virtual event platform providers will want to adapt their features and capabilities to support the requirements and preferences of multiple cultures. Additionally, I believe that platform providers will need to create customized templates and skins that are suited for individual cultures. If you take the standard set of templates for the Exhibit Hall, Auditorium, Lobby, etc. that are used by North American virtual event producers – and use them in an event in the Far East, chances are it will look foreign to the audience (no pun intended).
So, to support globalization, platform providers will want to create a portfolio of templates that are relevant and meaningful to the cultural norms of the region. An image of a male worker planted in a virtual booth may be fine in the West, but aspects of the individual (attire, expression, etc.) may be inappropriate in the Far East.
So as we look to grow this industry globally, I’d note that language support is certainly important – but the combination of language with culture will matter most.