Localization just doesn't matter
Two weeks ago, SourceGear was an exhibitor at the trade show portion of Tech-Ed in Barcelona, Spain. This was the first time we have been to this event. In fact, it was the first time SourceGear has been to any trade show outside the United States.
Personally, I have always wanted to attend Tech-Ed in Barcelona. The event seems to move back and forth between Barcelona and Amsterdam. The latter doesn't interest me at all, but I love Spain. Going to Barcelona for business would be great, and appending a family vacation would be even better.
But although we have considered this trip in the past, I have always resisted it. Even this year, it was all Corey's idea. He thought we should go, and it obviously didn't take too much arm-twisting for me to agree, so we went.
But my basic hesitancy remained a concern. I have never advocated attending a trade show in Europe, for one reason: Our software is English-only.
To me, it just seems odd to show up at a European trade show with software that is not internationalized. As I said in my post from Barcelona two weeks ago, I expected to spend the entire week apologizing for the fact that we have not localized our products for French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Russian, Hebrew, Polish, or Catalan.
I have always believed that i18n and l10n are important. Or, to put it another way, I have always felt guilty for the fact that SourceGear doesn't really do much in this area. :-)
Seriously, localization is one of those features that we never seem to have time for. It's on the list for every release, and it gets cut from every release. I feel kind of embarrassed about it. I'm proud to be an American, but, well, sometimes I'm not. I never wanted to SourceGear to be one of those arrogant American software companies that simply expects everybody to speak English.
But right now, that's what we are. So I just figured we would spend the week in Barcelona receiving complaints from people who want Vault in their own language. And we planned to be gracious as we received those gripes, because we deserve them.
But that's not what happened.
We had two booths at this show, one for each division of our company, SourceGear and Teamprise. There were 7,500 attendees from all over Europe and beyond. The booths were open for four days. We spoke with hundreds of customers and prospects. We received lots of valuable feedback. People asked us for all kinds of features.
Nobody asked us to localize our products for another language.
I'll repeat that, just in case you missed it. Here is the total number of people who asked us about localizing our products in languages other than English: Zero. Cero. Nul. Zéro. Null. Нул. Μηδέν.
I found this to be simply shocking.
Yes, yes, I know that there were some factors biasing things toward this result:
- SourceGear sells developer tools. Most developers speak English. If we were building products for normal people, things would be different.
- The primary language for this conference was English. People who don't speak English didn't come to the conference.
- We probably spoke with at most ten percent of the show attendees. It is merely a coincidence that we didn't get asked.
I know all that, so don't post it in my comments. I'm jet-lagged and crabby and I'm in no mood for people to be telling me the sky is blue. :-)
Boggles the mind, doesn't it?
This data point is a biggie. Here are a few more:
- Even though our product is English-only, we currently get between 30 and 40 percent of our revenue from outside the U.S.
- We do sometimes get requests for non-English localizations of our product, but not very often.
- We've actually experimented with a little bit of localization work, and the results have been awful. Conventional wisdom says that the most important language for localization is Japanese, right? So, in coordination with outside partner firms, SourceOffSite has been localized for Japanese. In fact, we've done it twice. Both times, the resulting revenues were quite low. How low? The English version of SOS outsells the J version, in Japan. How low? The monthly revenue from SOS-J and the amount of money I spend each month on sushi are in the same ballpark.
I now find myself in a very strange place. Empirical data simply doesn't match my expectations. The world should be punishing me for my arrogant "American-English-is-the-only-language-that-matters" behavior, but it's not. Our foreign revenues are solid. We've experimented with localization and received abysmal results. We've been to a trade show where most people's first language is not English, and nobody even complained.
I am forced to conclude that localization just doesn't matter. This isn't the conclusion I expected. It's not the conclusion I wanted. It doesn't fit my intuition. But it's the only conclusion that fits the data I've got.
Tell me I'm wrong. I'll listen. But right now, Vault is English-only, and I think maybe I'm ready to stop feeling guilty about it.