Saturday, 31 December 2011

Browser Language

By Browser Language I do not mean the Browser User Interface Language. I am referring to the Browser Preferred Language for displaying Pages. I will use the acronym BL to mean Browser preferred Language for displaying pages.

An internationalised website will have pages in multiple languages. These pages can be displayed according to BL eg If BL is Korean then the website will send it's Korean pages to the browser.

With most browsers, the BL can be set in the preferences and can be set independent of the language settings of the OS. Some browsers do inherit their BL from the OS language setting.

This ability to change the BL has so much potential that few are aware of. Google are switched on to this potential. Google maps, if embedded correctly, will automatically adapt to BL. You can try it out for yourself. Visit and you will see a Google map of Loughborough. Now change the BL in your browser preferences and refresh. You will see menus displayed in the BL you chose. If you had chosen Japanese as your BL you would also see some place names transliterated into Japanese.

This ability for the user to change BL is a good thing, a very good thing. But... This function is buried down in the preferences. It is my experience that few people are aware that the BL can be changed and even less are aware of the possibilities this opens up.

My recommendation to all the browser manufacturers is that the BL preferences should be made manifest by bringing them up front. Put a BL graphic in a prominent position on the browser window so that it is always visible. This BL graphic will serve to inform the user of the current BL and allow the user to change the BL (eg a popup BL selection menu).

Such a BL graphic will:
  • Raise user awareness of BL and the ability to change BL
  • Encourage users to explore sites that adapt according to BL
  • Encourage web developers to incorporate content, widgets and features that are BL adaptive
Here is an illustrative story. About a year ago, a Chinese person told me he had a problem when viewing some Google maps. His problem was that the map info was displayed in Chinese but he wanted to see the info displayed in English. This problem occurred when he viewed these maps from his own computer and he could not work out how to view the info in English.

I explained to him that what he was experiencing was not a problem but rather a symptom of a very powerful feature. The feature being Google maps auto adapting to BL. His Computer had a Chinese OS and the browser he used had it's BL set to Chinese. I told him how to change his browser's BL and then, of course, he could view the Google map info in any of the many supported languages.

A manifest BL graphic would have made it obvious what was happening and would have enabled him to explore and appreciate Google maps BL adaption and BL adaptive websites in general.