Building Global Products

I’ve always been a firm believer in user-centric products that are inspired and designed with the user in mind from the very beginning — and in the age of building globally, this becomes more important than ever. If you ever read letters and blogs from some of the leading product strategists and developers in the world, there is a consistent — and genuine — emphasis on building for the user (read Larry Page’s latest CEO letter for Google here); after all, the best technology products are those that truly make users’ lives simpler, more integrated, and simply, more elegant.

However, in an increasingly digitized world with many use cases amplified by both geographic and cultural divides, building global products can be particularly tricky. How do things as basic as names transfer over? How are actions that may seem intuitive in one culture be mis-interpreted in another?  And in some cases, like what we’ve seen with communications products like Twitter, how much content can a message pack depending on the language used (Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters, allows for far more information to be shared in character-based languages like Chinese and Japanese)?

Recently, I’ve started to notice the growth of product internalization teams within tech companies — beyond just simply building on all APIs, there is a growing emphasis on developing truly global products that focus on understanding local behavior and trends, and incorporating this as a core part of how a product grows. For example, WeiXin (WeChat), the Chinese-developed mobile communicator recently announced passing 40 million users outside of China (although more than 85% of its user base still comes from within China), carefully created two distinctly branded apps for its core communicator.  WeiXin (Micro-Mail) in Chinese, the app highlights integrations with popular Chinese (and Tencent-built) sites like QQ and WeiBo. However, with the app’s English version, you have access to Facebook and Twitter — both of which are (infamously) banned in China.

And the thing is, WeChat/Weixin didn’t evolve to become global — it was born global — designed from the very beginning to cater towards a global audience with localized versions (and names) released in different markets.   Especially as technology companies (and startups) like Tencent have increasingly global ambitions,  tech companies everywhere will need to closely examine what product internalization (or localization) means in what promises to be only the beginning of products with “global” at their core.

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