Localisation, YouTube and Flickr

Via BigMouth Media – well, actually via late-night YouTube browsing, followed by the now-familiar exclamation “Oh, look, YouTube’s changed something (in the middle of the night) again!”:

YouTube has released localised versions of its video sharing website in nine countries around the world. The countries that are getting the special treatment are Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK.

The sites are fully translated into the home country’s major language and offer content more specific to the user’s locale. The specific sites also return search results that are deemed more relevant to the user based on where they are in the world. According to YouTube’s official blog, users will also be able to look forward to country-specific video rankings and comments in the future.

I only noticed because the top right-hand corner of my YouTube page appeared to have suddenly sprouted a little US flag. Naturally my first instinct was to race with all possible speed for the drop-down box to get rid of it and replace it with something else. Because the US flag as the symbol for “I speak English” is one of my pet peeves. Of course, unless I want to finally get around to learning French, Polish or Japanese, my only other option for now is to pretend to be British.

More seriously, I’m ecstatic there are non-English language options, but concerned about what the impacts of Google-style ‘localisation’ of search results might be on the development of an open, cosmopolitan and networked public sphere.

First, it’s entirely possible that too much personalisation and customisation and localisation is actually a bad thing for the development of cosmopolitan cultural citizenship and for cultural innovation. Culturally-relevant content for citizens of countries outside the US is one thing. But to look at it the other way round, the last thing anyone should want is for US-centric content to dominate the YouTube experience of US residents even more than is the case already. We’ll see how it plays out, I suppose.

Second, YouTube’s twitchy behaviour and tenuous relationships with local governments has a slighly chilling effect on the warm, neighbourly glow that ‘localisation’ is meant to provoke.

From Wired-in Terrence Russell:

Even with the new sites, international users will still have access to the original site, as well as all the others. “It is not that we want to limit content by geography,” YouTube’s International Manager, Sakina Arsiwala told Reuters. “Right now, the content will be available to everyone, unless the (media) partner specifies otherwise.”

Well, maybe.

Which brings to mind the tangles and heartache caused by the localisation of Yahoo! and the subsequent filtering of Flickr content viewed from Germany, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. The policies are being almost hysterically condemned as ‘censorship’ by some Flickr users. Interestingly, most of the protest seems to be focused around the impacts on German users. I haven’t been as immersed in the issue as I would have been a few months back, but it doesn’t take long to see it’s clearly a complicated and fraught issue. And it’s not going to go away. I wonder how a YouTube localised for Germany will look?

[update] From the horse’s mouth via the YouTube blog:

As these sites evolve, so will your localized YouTube experience, including country-specific video rankings, comments and browse pages – all while being just one click away from the worldwide view.

[...]

We’re extremely excited to be offering YouTube in the languages of so many of our users, since it allows people to express themselves and unite around interesting, relevant videos. We’re looking forward to seeing communities develop between people in their local communities as well as among people around the world. We can’t wait to experience more original content and interesting genres of content in different languages on the site.

Clearly, the language options are a very good thing. But I still don’t see why country-specific content is any more an aid to the development of communities of interest than are keywords, groups and so on. An aid to targeted advertising and content filtering though, certainly.

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