A Global Village
The Internet World Stats (IWS) organization just reported that we have reached a point, where 1 in 2 people in the world have some kind of access to the internet. I believe this is an especially significant moment; reaching 50.1% Internet user penetration in the world is a historical occasion!
What does this mean to online businesses? Well, it means several things:
- The IWS database shows there are now 3,675,824.813 Internet users in the world. All these users are potential customers for businesses looking to expand online.
- People across the world can now contact and interact with each other easily and much more frequently than ever before. This means multilingual interactions will be important in bridging communication.
- Cross-cultural interaction is now the norm and it is easy for an internet user in Poland, for example, to regularly interact with users in Japan and Argentina and South Africa.
- Global eCommerce is now significantly easier and it is possible to buy products directly from the country of manufacture.
- While language remains a barrier, online machine translation services make a lot more information accessible at least on a surface level. Have you ever used the “See Translation” links which allow you to easily see the content in your own language?
- It is becoming increasingly important for global enterprises to make information available in multiple languages so that these new online populations can also become part of their global customer base.
- The “Global Village” has now become a reality.
“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”
– Bill Gates
Where is growth the fastest?
As would perhaps be expected, the fastest growth is not in North America, which already has an internet penetration of 89%,as of the latest update on June 30, 2016, according to IWS.
Africa is the fastest growing region, with over 7,400% growth from 2000 to 2016–but it is still only ~29% penetrated. The Middle East is the next-fastest growing region, with over 4,200% growth over the same period, and a 57% penetration rate. The third-fastest growing region is Latin America, with over 2,000% growth.
Focusing on the development of content in these regions and the languages spoken there can allow businesses to capitalize on early-entry opportunities, but only if done right. Rushing into machine translation may not always produce the best results. It is important to devise a strategy for success, should you decide to make your information available in other languages.
Why is this information useful?
This information is very valuable in understanding what languages might matter to a global enterprise, and it is useful to have this perspective when considering online content expansion for any commercial venture. You can see all the details here.
It is also useful to juxtapose the content by languages on the internet to get a complete picture of this global village. English content still dominates on the internet, but we are rapidly approaching the point at which Chinese-speakers could become the largest single language user group on the web.
It is ironic that while the momentum and value of other languages grow rapidly on the internet, there is also significant growth in people trying to learn English in countries who are becoming global players and whose economies are growing. Indeed, English is the closest we have to a global language. Tallying the number of speakers of the world’s languages is an increasingly complex task, particularly with the push in many countries to teach English in their public schools. Furthermore, English is the preferred language of science and technology and also the most common language all over the world to facilitate global commerce when native language specialists are not available. For example, Japanese and Chinese businessmen often have to resort to English if interpreters are not available.
What are the top 10 languages on the internet?
As mentioned above, English dominates, as countries like India or China have a large number of English speaking “users”. But when looking into the growth and expansion of internet users, consider this: if you look at the current Top 10 languages on the internet, you may notice that no Indian languages are mentioned. Given that there are almost 500 million Hindi speakers today, we should expect that it will make a showing in the not-so-distant future, most likely driven by smartphone internet access. More details are available here.
Also when you consider that the Asian user base is almost 50% of the world online population it is important to understand that Asia, like Europe, is not monolithic and insight comes with an understanding of what this user base looks like. So in 2016 China has the largest user population but we can expect the overall picture to change over the next 10 years.
In conclusion, these are interesting times and we can expect that the world is growing smaller all the time as our cross-cultural, cross-language and cross-border interactions become as commonplace as our phone calls and text messaging.