Why, in our web-connected age, do we still exist in information silos defined by nationality and language?
This is, for me, probably the greatest disappointment of the Internet era. (Okay, the fact that I didn’t get to keep my million dollars of dot-com stock was my biggest personal disappointment, but that’s a different kind of disappointment). An incredible technological unity has been established all over the world — from my office computer to Africa and Asia and South America and everywhere on this planet, we all speak HTML and Unicode and TCP-IP and HTTP. So why isn’t there more global cultural interchange going on?
The image above shows (via Google Analytics, a great free service) unique visitors to Litkicks in the past month. I’m quite happy with my US numbers — 21,000+ uniques, not too shabby for a quirky literary site that publishes four posts a week. I also do just fine in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia and several Western European countries. And then it comes: the big dropoff.
Maybe I should be glad that this site manages to pick up even the sparse handfuls of international visitors it gets. And I’m intrigued and a little mystified by the fact that I’m not fully blocked in China, and that I have more readers in Saudi Arabia (or, for that matter, Iran) than in all of Central Africa combined. But, overall, let’s be honest: these numbers are awful.
It’s not just me. As a professional web developer, I’ve had the opportunity to study the metrics of countless USA-based websites. Their international graphs all look like mine. We’re widely read in English-speaking countries, but we barely manage to show up anywhere else.
As an Internet reader, I am also stuck in a silo that I don’t know how to get out of. Every single website I follow via RSS originates in an English-speaking country. My attempts to “internationalize” my web surfing have failed comically. I enjoy reading foreign books, watching foreign films … as far as eating goes, I am the consummate international (wait — do Taco Bell and the Indian place down the street count?). But my online reading habits are pathetically monolithic. And, I hate to say it, but I bet yours are too.
Given the language barrier around the world, how can the Web’s global problem be solved? Is it really a problem at all, or am I misguided to think it is? What non-English-based websites do you read (either in translated form or in any other way)? (Or, if you are one of my few readers from around the world, what brings you here, and what keeps others away?) I’d love to hear from some of you out there about this question. I can’t be the only one who thinks our powerful new Internet capabilities ought to be doing a better job of breaking down barriers than they currently are. Maybe we can brainstorm some breakout scenarios together.