Website users around the world belong to different cultures. Members of a particular culture share a common lifestyle, and to some extent they have their own way of viewing, thinking, understanding and doing things. To some extent this diversity of lifestyle affects how website users understand and interact with a website. Thus website localization is proposed as a way to adapt a website to a specific culture by making it culturally acceptable for its target audience.
The idea and motivation for the research described in this thesis was inspired by a one-year project called “MultiWeb” performed by the WISE research group of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the research group TTK of the Erasmus Hogeschool Brussel (EhB). The aim of the project was to identify the issues that need to be considered when designing localized websites. To achieve the project goal, several research studies were conducted. However, the main goal of the project was not achieved, as it turned out to be more complex than expected. Rather, the research results led to an additional research question being explored, namely the question of whether localization of websites is still needed, and if so to what extent? The departure point for this thesis is this unexpected result. More specifically, the main objectives of this thesis are: (1) to study and examine the influences of the culture of the website user on understanding the content and the interfaces of websites, (2) to propose guidelines for the localization of websites, and (3) to provide a localized website design advisor tool.
The research work was divided into two main phases. The first phase dealt with culture and cross-cultural evaluation. This phase focussed on evaluating the impact of culture on designing localized websites. Thus several research studies were performed with the aim of understanding the relationship between website design and the user’s culture. Moreover, they were intended to identify the anthropological cultural models, cultural markers and issues that should be taken into consideration when designing localized websites. From the research studies in this phase it was concluded that identifying absolute and clear-cut cultural markers or using a dedicated anthropological cultural model for designing localized website is not possible. Moreover, we found that the culture of Web users changes and shifts with their understanding of the Web, and that the Web is an environment with its own culture.
The second phase dealt with website localization in practice. The results of this phase describe the practical contributions of the research to supporting the design of localized websites. It is built upon the results obtained from the first phase. Five different groups of anthropological dimensions of culture and cultural markers are proposed: E-culture, Stable, Broad, Variable, and Vista. The five groups are organized as levels in a pyramid, and in this way they allow for different degrees of website localization: from 1 (little localization) to 5 (full localization). Next, this pyramid is formally represented in a conceptual data model, the “Cultural Conceptual Model (C2M)”, using Object Role Modelling (ORM).
Based on the findings of this thesis, a software tool called the Localized Website Design Advisor, or “LWDA”, was built to dynamically generate localized website specifications and guidelines. The tool takes as input a target country, a language, a website domain, and the localization level required (1 to 5) and returns as output a set of guidelines for localizing the website.
The research described in this PhD thesis provides insight into the design of user cultural centred websites, as well as concrete guidelines.