Monday, July 28, 2008

The first language of the internet is now Mandarin

The China Internet Network Information Center has reported that China's online population has now reached 253 million people, a smidgen more than the US's 223 million, coming from a Sydney Morning Herald article, China steals internet crown from US.

Of course the 300 million English speakers in India will help redress this balance as more of them come online, however the future of the internet will not necessarily be written in English.

At the moment the revenue for China's online services is estimated at only around US$5.9 billion, compared the the US$21 billion estimated for the US.

China's online revenues are reportedly growing at 30 percent per year, so at some point this balance as well will be redressed - making this, at present, at least a US$15 billion dollar opportunity.

As yet I have not seen much in the way of Chinese language sites from Australia, however if I had to pick it, I'd rate this as possibly the largest area for growth today for the online sector.

I wonder what types of grants and support the Commonwealth and state governments will be offering Australian innovators to assist them in supporting Chinese language versions of their websites - after all China is becoming our most significant international trading partner, and Chinese speakers are a significant market worldwide.

I also wonder when Australian governments will get more serious about multi-language websites - as the Europeans already do by default.

In areas such as tourism, trade, business and finance, supporting multiple languages online will become very important in supporting our relationships with other nations.

We are coming from a cold start, in a very real sense we live in a single language country, with English being the language of government, commerce and education. Whilst we have a large number of multi-lingual people, our institutions are not set up to be multi-lingual in a real, embedded sense as they have to be in other parts of the world.


  1. Sort of, although I think that the first language of the web is probably always going to be English (isn't that a very Western point of view).
    Even in China, there will be many many English readers (and writers), I have heard that there are more people learning English in China than speaking it in the US.
    I do think that the divide between languages will be crossed by automated tools, when we have more experience vested in tools such as google translate (spoken like a true Google Fanboy).

  2. I think that English speakers will continue to believe that the internet is primarily English-speaking until there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    It's a reflection of how people think.

    There are more English speakers in India than there are in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa put together.

    However that doesn't mean that the future of the web will continue to be writ in the language of Shakespeare (though he's not easily understandable to a 21st century English speaker either).

    What will become important is the innovations that occur - innovation is often very culturally and language driven. To-date innovation on the web has been predominantly driven based on English-speaking roots.

    As we see the weight of language change, we could see some very different forms of innovation take place.