As far as PayPal is concerned Canada only speaks English

We recently launched a new client site and as part of the process we needed to hook the site up to PayPal’s transaction processing screens.

A dig through their site / developers area didn’t really turn up any info on how to present the screens in localized form. After a few emails back and forth we were finally pointed at a PDF and buried deep in there we found the code needed.

PayPal was actually pretty smart about making it easy to enable the localized interface – it is essentially a hidden form field named “lc” where you input the language code.

This is where things start to fall apart.

On the next page is a list of “language codes” – only last I checked the following weren’t languages:

  • Canada
  • United states
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • Belgium

Yep, all of the so-called language codes are actually country codes. No mention of what dialect / language has been used to do the localization. Just country name and code.

This is problematic on a couple of levels.

  1. Many translated sites aren’t targeting a specific country. Our client, for example, built this site with a global audience – so which country’s Spanish should they use? Not the end of the world, but, it creates a cognitive burden for people trying to set up a site when they may not be entirely familiar with the subtle differenced between regional variations of a language. Worse still, because there’s no indication of what regional variation was used to create the localized version you’re left guessing. At the end of the day it might not even be worth considering because they could have easily used the same variation of Spanish for any country they deemed to primarily speak Spanish.
  2. The even bigger issue though is when it comes to bi-lingual countries. Let’s say I’m developing a site exclusively for the Canadian market. Canada is a bi-lingual nation (English & French). So what happens when I select “Canada” as a language code?

According to PayPal Canada is an English speaking country, the response to my question “How do I access the French Canadian localized interface?”:

The below are the country codes available for the french language.



Hmm, great. So for English I’m okay to use the “language” code for Canada but if I want French I need to pick another country???? What is someone who is not deeply immersed in language supposed to do with that? Is there any difference between those “languages”? Which is the closest to the most generic/global French? What are my French-Canadian users going to think of this?

This is the exact same problem as using flags to represent languages. Countries may have adopted a language as the official language (or languages) of their country but a country does not represent a language in any way. What “language” does a Canadian flag represent? A Belgian flag?

An easy solution

The solution to this isn’t all that difficult. The issue is really just someone at PayPal coming at the information provided to them for this process in a slightly incorrect manner. The language codes should correspond to actual, agreed upon language codes (i.e ISO 639-2). You can then take these codes and create a reference chart where users can either select from a list of languages that have been flagged as “global friendly” (i.e. they are common enough to most variations of a language that it is commonly accepted as the generic form of that language) or, if they have a specific target country they can reference a c hart which features the country name, languages spoken and recommended ISO codes for those languages.

Even better it could specify the code for the commonly accepted generic variation as well as identify the codes for any regional dialects that are supported.

At the end of the day PayPal should be commended for taking the steps to try and offer a broadly localized interface – it just needs a couple of tweaks to make it more user-friendly.

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BarCampEarth Toronto – BBQ Rescheduled…

Just a quick note – the BBQ that was originally scheduled for August 27, 2006 has been rescheduled for Sunday September 24, 2006 same location and times.

Details and sign-up here:

Also – dates have been announced for DemoCamp9. 10 & 11. DemoCamp9 will be at No Regrets once again so sign up early if you want to come as space is limited. DemoCamp10 & 11 will be at the MaRS venue which has loads of space.

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Film, Language & the Doppelganger era

An interesting aspect of film history that I’d never really considered came to my attention the other day.

Film started as a silent medium, just moving pictures and occasionally a pre-recorded (or sometimes live) musical soundtrack. But no speaking which, of course, made it very accessible to people of any language.

The vast majority of the films were coming out of a growing Hollywood but because there was no language barrier it was easily exported around the world and the US quickly became the dominant producer of films around the world.

And then something changed – dialogue

Technology advanced and “sound” was added to films in the form of recorded dialogue. While it had a big effect on the way films were produced it also had a dramatic effect on the way film was consumed. Overnight the silent, globally accesible films became English language films and an entire global industry changed.

Imagine if tomorrow all of the US produced films suddenly announced they were only going to be released in Japanese…

Interestingly enough the one language that was important enough to Hollywood was Spanish but rather than dub or subtitle the films (not the easiest thing to do in those days) they actually began to shoot multiple versions of the films (Foreign language “Doppelgangers” so to speak). At night, when the English cast & crew had gone home they would bring in a graveyard shift of actors & crew to shoot on the same sets overnight. It was actually an incredibly cost effective way to serve multiple language markets as the sets & props were already built and ready to use. As a result they could produce the films for a fraction of the cost of the English version.

Doppelganger’s were also commonly produced in French and German – unfortunately many didn’t survive and no longer exist today. One of the few surviving films from this era is the Spanish version of 1931’s “Dracula“. In this case there are even some who consider the Spanish version as a better film than the English version – apparantly it was common for the filmmakers to watch the dailies from the English film and then change or modify their film to fix what they perceived as short comings & errors.

Nowadays of course we’re spoiled with DVDs that contain multiple language tracks for every film, and where dubs are not available there’s almost always a subtitle option. The history of film is actually a great example of how tehnology, while it can remove many barriers, can also put them right back up.

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The following presentation will be three Hours long and involve almost 1,000 PowerPoint slides….



…oh and it’ll cost you $45.

Still interested?

It’s probably a good thing the session I went to this morning wasn’t billed that way – I don’t think they would have had nearly the crowd show up that they did.

This morning I went to a session at the MaRS Discovery District entitled “The Power of Pictonics: Using visualizations to tell your technology story” presented by Dave Gray, founder of XPLANE. I went initially as a fan of the XPLANE work expecting to hear Dave speak about XPLANE, their work, and go through examples of stuff they’d done for clients etc. – which I’m sure would have been interesting.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.

It turns out though that instead of being given fish, we were being taught how to fish – by a master fisherman.

Dave billed it as “Visual Thinking School – BETA” (this was the first time he’s ever done this session). So instead of just showing us how XPLANE does their “thing” he actually worked through a session with the goal of teaching us HOW to do (aspects of) the XPLANE “thing”.

What resulted was three hours of intensely entertaining and informative, discussion and absorption of how Dave Gray sees, and conveys the world. I could easily blog everyday for a month and probably still not be able to do any justice to the quantity (and quality) of the information that he shared with us. Looking at my desk now, I’ve got 10+ pages of notes, a stack of post-its, and a mess of index cards all from this one session.

I wasn’t kidding about the 1,000 Powerpoint slides either – although to Dave’s credit, this was a side effect of the increasingly popular presentation style of rapid-fire movement through slides with minimal content (an image, 1, 2 or 3 words etc.) Many slides were on screen for only the most split of seconds. Described, it sounds like a ridiculous concept but in person it was actually a surprisingly effective method of delivering content.

In the end I’m amazed at just how clear a lot of elements of the process are now. As someone who is largely self-taught in just about everything he does on a day to day basis it was great to backfill and better understand why it is I do what I do (learn the originating theories) and also expand my knowledge far more than I ever could have self-taught in the near future.

I look forward over the next little while of sharing the results of this session here as I apply it to our current illustrations and marketing pieces at Clay Tablet.

And yes, all this did only cost $45. Dave could easily add a “0” to the end of that price and it would still be a deal. I half expected to be stopped as I walked out with “Actually there was a typo on the site….”. I almost feel guilty at the ridiculous imbalance between cost and value (in favour of the participants).

If sales or illustration of processes are part of your role and you get the chance to see him do one of these sessions live – I highly recommend you do, at almost any cost. He alluded to a possible book on this very topic too so if that comes out be sure to pick it up.

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