Is i18n the new black?

It’s been interesting to see over the last couple of years how internationalisation (i18n) has gained weight in the web community. Of course I may be wrong as it’s something that I’ve really only been following for that amount of time however previously if I raised it in conversation I would be met with a look of “I’ve got more than enough on my plate with this accessibility stuff thank you” and the conversation would politely be nixed.

But times they are a changing. In 2006 at London’s @Media well respected web standards advocate Molly Holzschlag presented on Awakening the Sleeping Giant which sowed the seed of i18n well and truly in the minds of many designers and developers that day…and never was there a better title for a presentation either.

This year at @Media Richard Ishida from the W3C Internationalisation Working Group presented on Designing for International users: Practical Tips. It was great to see a practical presentation pointing out the benefits of i18n, pitfalls of not considering it early on in the design process and pointers to what to do to incorporate it. People I spoke to after the session were pretty unanimous in their feedback in that they didn’t really know what to expect from the session and were left saying “I really hadn’t realised how important this is”. The world wide web is the world wide web after all. Even if you do design and build websites in one country for one audience there is nothing to say that you wont have users from elsewhere.

So is i18n the new black? In the late 90’s when working on web projects in China usability was the buzzword, accessibility then took over in the early noughties. An now interest seems to be in i18n. By it’s very nature the web community loves to embrace new technologies, ideas and concepts and it looks to me that standards on the web also have a place on that list.