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Cross-Cultural

Communication Online:
How Diverse Cultural Values
and Communicative
Preferences Shape Users and
Uses of Computer-mediated
Communication Technologies

Dr. Charles Ess


Drury University
Springfield, Missouri 65802
<cmess@drury.edu>
Caveats and acknowledgements

All slides copyright © 2004 by their author(s) and are


reproduced here by permission.
This material is made available for academic purposes only,
and under „fair use“ provisions, including: no citation,
copying, or distribution without permission from the
author(s).
I wish to thank the authors for their generous willingness to
share their materials in this way. My thanks also to my
colleagues in the Fakultäten of Medienwissenschaft (esp.
Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Bucher) and Sinologie (esp. Prof. Dr.
Karl-Heinz Pohl) as well as to Dr. Henrike Schmidt (Ruhr-
Universität, Bochum) for their critical insight and support.
For further information, please contact the authors and/or
Charles Ess <cmess@drury.edu>
Overview
I. Does Culture Matter?
A. Has HCI Paid Attention to Culture?
B. What to do? - CATaC’98 / ‘00 / ‘02 / ‘04
1. Failures of Culture / HCI
2. Efforts to come to grips with culture
a. Hofstede, Hall, and web-based marketing
Interlude: caveats and “culture”
b. Hofstede and South African Indigenous Peoples

II. Best Practices - So Far…


A. Whitney - HP and Cisco get it … and make money
B. Leonardi - U.S. / Hispanic websites (collectivism / individualism)
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization” practices on the Web
D. Matters of tone, context, metaphor
E. Bucher - Designing for China
F. Postlude: Designing Arabic-language sites
I. Does Culture Matter?
A. Has HCI Paid Attention to Culture?

1. Certainly not in 1998 – demographics of the Internet were


basically monocultural
I. Does Culture Matter?
A. Has HCI Paid Attention to Culture?
2. By 2004? Still not much …
Culture is taken for granted. There is no exhaustive
definition for culture, so we have to choose our definition.
Culture is not defined explicitly. We should always state
clearly our suppositions of culture (or the suppositions of
the theories and models we are using) and recognise their
effects on our study.
Culture is limited to national cultures. It is good to remember
that culture does not exist at national level only. At least we
should avoid assuming that there is one national culture for
every country.
Cultures are seen as coherent wholes. We should give up
the idea that cultures are isolated wholes or that we could
draw strict borders between them.
Culture is seen in the role of maintenance. Culture is
capable of both resistance and transformation.
-- Kamppuri and Tukiainen (2004)
B. What to Do? - CATaC’98 /
‘00 / ‘02 / ‘04
 Cultural / National traditions researched /
represented:

Aboriginal (Canada, North America, South Africa,


Australia)
Asia - China, Thailand, Japan, Korea / India
Anglo-American world (Australia, U.S., U.K. Canada
France / Francophone countries
Middle East (Israel, Kuwait…)
Islamic / Arabic countries (Malaysia, Indonesia…
Iran, United Arab Emirates)
B. What to Do? - CATaC’98 /
‘00 / ‘02 / ‘04
Sample publications
C. Ess and F. Sudweeks (eds.), Technology of Despair and Hope: CMC
in the Middle East - a special issue of the Journal of Computer-
Mediated Communication (November 2003)
<http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol8/issue2/>

Jonathan Zhu, Fay Sudweeks, and C Ess (eds.), Internet Adoption in the
Asia-Pacific Region, special issue of Journal of Computer-Mediated
Communication, 7: 2 (January, 2002).
<http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol7/issue2/>

C. Ess (ed.). 2001. Culture, Technology, Communication: Towards


an Intercultural Global Village. Albany, NY: State University
of New York Press.
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See <www.it.murdoch.edu.au/catac/>

an
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CATaC ‘04 - 29 countries …

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CATaC ‘04 - themes:
Culture: Theory and Praxis
ICTS and intercultural communication
ICTS and cultural hybridity
Culture, ICTs, and online learning
Governments, activists, and Culture / Technology /
Communication
The Multilingual Internet
ICTs and development
Culture and ICT diffusion
Youth and indigenous cultures
See <www.it.murdoch.edu.au/catac/>
Initial Findings: Cultural Conflicts
What happens in praxis as CMC technologies are
implemented across a continuum of cultures?
US Europe Middle East Asia indigenous
peoples

Contrast/Conflict
white middle Rey’s study of Israel (Dahan, Singapore; Malaysia -
class males German-, 1999); Japan (Heaton, Kelabit (Harris
vis-à-vis … French-, Italian- Kuwait 2001); et al, 2001);
females / speaking Swiss (Wheeler, 2001) Malaysia (Abdat Philippines
African- & Pervan, 2000) (Sy, 2001);
Americans / (2001) Indonesia South Africa
Hispanics / (Rahmati, 2000); (Postma,
Asian- Thailand 2001)
Americans / (Hongladarom,
Native 2001)
Americans
(Stewart et al,
2001) “NO THANKS!”
eKiribati (Solomon
Islands – Sofield, 2000)
Failures of Culture & HCI -
Examples
1. Japanese CSCW (Heaton)
--> high content/low context vs. low
content/high context (Hall)
2. Japanese Internet and Democracy
(Nakada et al)
3. Maori in the Library (Duncker)
1. Japanese CSCW (Heaton 2001)

ClearBoard- 2: Japanese redesign of CSCW - capturing non-verbal


Consistent with …
Communication theory (Hall, 1976):
High content / low context -
dominant cultures in US
Example: standard ASCII e-mail
High context /low content -
traditional/oral cultures;
contemporary Arabic, Asian societies
2. Internet and Democracy - in
Japan?
Contra 1990s hopes for an “electronic public sphere”
following Habermasian lines …
Japan: High Internet use + high interest in politics
-BUT:
little use of Internet - as connected to cultural
values / orientations of Seken
with
political interests / activities - as connected to
Shakei
2. Internet and Democracy - in
Japan?
Internet use …

Shakai Seken
Democracy, individualism, Morality,
society, law, system, free Reciprocity,
speech, human rights Locality, Social
Order

Nakada, Tamura, Tkach-Kawasaki and Iitaka 2004


3. Maori in the Library…
Maori students … unfamiliar with
• Western information classification systems /
taxonomies
• Western library organization systems
• “Desktop” icons, etc.
Preferred to work with trusted friend / mentor than
with library staff and/or by oneself
Hofstede’s individualism / collectivism axis
Duncker 2002; cf. Jørgensen 2003; Wilson,
forthcoming
Getting a Grip … Hall, Hofstede
1. Hall, Hofstede, and Web-based
marketing successes / failures -
Hermeking (2004)

Interlude: caveats regarding “culture”

2. Hofstede and S.A. Indigenous Peoples -


Addison & Sirkissoon (2004)
1. Hall, Hofstede, and Web-based marketing
successes / failures - Hermeking (2004)
Institute for Intercultural Communications,
Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, Germany
Hofstede’s cultural factors

Power Distance: Hofstede (1980) defines ‘Power


Distance’ as ‘… the extent to which the less powerful
members of institutions and organisations accept that
power is distributed unequally’. Power distance refers
to the extent to which unequal distribution of power
in institutions and organisations is accepted by
members of a society.

Individualism/Collectivism:
‘...the relationship between the individual and the
collectivity which prevails in a given society.’
Uncertainty Avoidance: The extent to which members
of a society feel threatened by uncertainty is called
‘Uncertainty Avoidance’
Masculinity versus Femininity: Hofstede (1980) states
that the predominant socialisation pattern is for men to
be more assertive and for women to be more nurturing.
His review of the work goals indicated a near
consistency on men scoring advancement and earnings as
more important, and women scoring supervision, social
aspects of the job, working conditions, working hours
and ease of work as more important. Hofstede’s
calculated scores of Masculinity/Femininity for only a
small group of nations are available...
South Asia
A. Abdat and Pervan (2000) analyze Group Support
Systems - especially their capacity to allow users to
provide anonymous feedback - in light of Indonesian
cultural values. They characterize Indonesia (in
terms familiar from Hofstede) as low
individualism/high collectivism and high power
distance - such that people arrive at major
meetings, for example, with the details already
negotiated and planned: the point is to avoid
surprises - especially those that lead to "loss of
face," where saving face is a central value from
Confucian ethics (2000, 211).
South Asia
A. Abdat and Pervan (2000):
In this context, anonymity - touted in the West as one of the
advantages of CMC technologies, as it encourages more open
expression and may contribute to a "flattening" of
organizational hierarchies - is janus-faced. On the one hand,
in certain pre-meeting contexts (i.e., where details to be
approved in the major meeting are negotiated), anonymity may
contribute to group efficiency as it reduces status
differential. On the other hand, in major meetings in which
face is much more at stake, anonymity might encourage
comments and questions that threaten face. For these and
other reasons, Abdat and Pervan argue that GSS systems
need to be re-designed in order to make anonymity a
switchable feature (213f.).
South Asia
B. Nasrin Rahmati (2000) characterizes Malaysia as a
culture marked by a
distinctive religious commitment factor,
as well as
high fatalism,
high uncertainty avoidance,
collectivism,
traditionalism, and
the value of keeping face.
Such a society is thus denoted as a "tight" society, in
contrast with a "loose" society, such as Australia, which
is marked rather by low religious commitment, low
fatalism, low uncertainty avoidance, individualism, etc.
1. Hall, Hofstede, and Web-based marketing
successes / failures - Hermeking (2004)
International Internet consumption (all users, 2001):

100
90
80
[% of population]

70 61,2
60
47,5 47,25
50
40 28,9
30
20
6,2
10
0
USA Australia Canada Japan Brazil

cf.: spectrum.troyst.edu/~vorism/hofstede.htm
1. Hall, Hofstede, and Web-based marketing
successes / failures - Hermeking (2004)
International Internet consumption (Europe, 2001):
1. Hall, Hofstede, and Web-based marketing
successes / failures - Hermeking (2004)

“In general, indirect and transformational


advertising messages creating emotions through
pictures and entertainment are more favoured in
High-context cultures like France or Japan, for
example,

whereas direct and rational advertising


messages providing first of all product
information play a more important role in Low-
context cultures like Germany or many parts of
the USA, for example. (445)
1. Hall, Hofstede, and Web-based marketing
successes / failures - Hermeking (2004)

Content appeal:
information/rational entertainment/emotional

written text
Low-context
communication
Layout:
High-context
communication
visual picture
Interlude - Caveats re. “Culture”
 Obvious (?) dangers of essentializing both “culture” and
those ostensibly shaped by it
 --> dangers of stereotyping, generalizing, etc.
 “No langue-parole or system-process distinction can catch
this play, culture at work. Culture alive is always on the run,
always changeful. There is no reason to throw up one’s
hands over this.
-- Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1999. A Critique of Postcolonial
Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present.
Consciousness
A Sample “Cultural
Folklore Grammar
Pyramid”
(from: Reeder et al 2004) Literature Theatre Art

Music Dance Food Clothing/costume

Postures/attitudes Politeness concepts of propriety

Representations of Beauty Grammatical functions

Raising / educating children “Going about” (Umgang) with other human beings

“Going about” with animals attitudes/postures towards nature hierarchical relationships

Cleanliness representations disease representations historical understanding

Values

Concepts of Virtues, Mistakes, Sins Linguistic interaction and discourse roles

Leadership qualities goal orientation industriousness attitudes towards work

Concepts of order Truth Sense of Justice concepts of time / space

Concepts of self Proxemics Body language self

self-perception philosophy of life naturalness plausibility

Logic feelings unconsciousness Role of concepts


From: Reeder, Macfadyen, Chase and Roche, CATaC’04
2. Hall and South African Indigenous
Peoples - Addison & Sikissoon (2004)
 Uncertainty Avoidance: “average” /
lower than whites.
 Individualism: low
 Long term orientation: low
 Evidence is inconclusive regarding the
dimensions of Power Distance and
Masculinity.
2. Hall and South African Indigenous
Peoples - Addison & Sikissoon (2004)
 Individualist/Collectivist (Collectivist)
Black South African cultures are more collectivist oriented according to Booysen’s
(2001) study. The implications for interface design according to Marcus (2003) are
that:
 Personal achievement should be underplayed and more group achievement should
be displayed
 Success should be demonstrated by achievement of social-political agenda
 Official slogans could be used, while keeping controversy as low as possible
 The emphasis should be on the aged, experienced and wise leaders
 Group goals should be emphasised as opposed to individualistic goals
 The emphasis of morality should be on relationships
 Emphasis should be on tradition and history
[Consistent with Postma’s 2001 study on the failure of (white-oriented)
Learning Centres]
2. Hall and South African Indigenous
Peoples - Addison & Sikissoon (2004)
Uncertainty Avoidance culture (Low)
Black South Africans display a low uncertainty avoidance
orientation, according to Booysen (2001). Black South
African’s display a lower uncertainty avoidance orientation
than their white counterparts. According to Marcus (2003),
these cultures can be served with interfaces that:
 Avoid overprotecting users by offering depth in navigation
 Offer users choice and offer maximum content
 Allow less control of navigation, allow for links leading to
different destinations
 Offer users variety in terms of colour, sound and features
2. Hall and South African Indigenous
Peoples - Addison & Sikissoon (2004)
Short term/long term (Short-term oriented)
Black South Africans display a short-term
orientation towards work ethic. The implications
for short-term orientation towards work ethic as
emphasised by Marcus (2003) for interface design
are:
 Content should emphasise truth and beliefs.
 Rules offer credibility
 A need for immediate achievement of goals
– (Addison & Sirkissoon 2004, 472f.)
II. Best Practices - So Far…

A. Whitney - HP and Cisco get it … and


make money
B. Leonardi - U.S. / Hispanic websites
(collectivism / individualism)
C. Würtz - McDonalds and
“glocalization” practices on the Web
D. Matters of tone, context, metaphor
E. Bucher - Designing for China
A. Whitney - HP and Cisco get it … and make
money

 HP and Cisco more successful than


competitors because of “knowledge,”
“persuasion” feedback loops from local
channels
B. Leonardi - U.S. / Hispanic websites

 Study of U.S. Hispanic / non-Hispanic


responses to two websites:
AT&T: www.att.com
Telefonica: http://www.telefonica.com

Important contrasts emerged across scale of


individualism (U.S. sites and visitors) vs.
collectivism (Hispanic sites and U.S.
Hispanic visitors)
B. Leonardi - U.S. / Hispanic websites
(collectivism / individualism)
 1. U.S. Hispanic users noted important
differences between U.S. and Hispanic websites
– first of all, as Hispanic websites used words
(primarily, the pronoun nosotros, “we”) and
images to reflect and foster the Hispanic cultural
value of collectivism and group membership.
 2. While these differences were obvious to
Hispanic users – U.S. Non-Hispanic users
largely failed to notice these differences.
B. Leonardi - U.S. / Hispanic websites
(collectivism / individualism)
 [cf. findings by Cassell and Tversky 2004 re.
online community in Junior Summit 1998:
– The population trend showing that “we” words
decrease and “I” words increase with time appears to
hold true for each of the regions independently
though at different rates. For instance, North
American children used "we" words significantly
less than the mean, and increased their use at a rate
slightly slower than their peers; meanwhile, children
from Central and South America started at a lower
point but increased at the same rate.
B. Leonardi - U.S. / Hispanic websites
(collectivism / individualism)
  best practices –
– use language as well as images to foster group
membership for collectivist cultures;
– use country-specific design whenever possible (e.g.,
Telefónica dividing its site into 8 country-specific
sites) - http://www.telefonica.com/
[Cf.: those with English as second language – like those with
English as first language – prefer alphabetically-organized links
over content-based links and search engines: but – higher
preference for content-based links among English as first
language users. Kralisch and Berendt 2004)
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
 Use of animation to assimilate
interpersonal communication (high
context)
 Promotion of (collectivist/individualist)
values
 Level of transparency
 Navigation around the site
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Interpersonal communication
- Japan
The use of
videos to
convey what
would be
conveyed in
gestures in
real life
conversations
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Collectivistic / individualistic values

Collectivist cultures tend to emphasise being in good physical


shape and time spent with family and friends as their dominant
values,
whereas the notion of freedom and personal time valued in
individualist societies implies relaxation and time spent by
oneself.
Images of individuals dancing or doing sports are more
prominent in HC websites than LC websites, whereas in LC
countries, individuals will tend to be portrayed in more relaxed
situations, or situations connoting holiday activities, such as a
trip to the lake or listening to music.
[see http://www.mcdonalds.co.jp/community/sports_h_f.html
for example of sports / community themes in Japan]
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Individualism - Germany, Switzerland
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Individualism - Switzerland

“You’re immediately at the centre of attention - your


individuality, your everyday life, situations in which you
recognize yourself and where you would like to see yourself.”
<http://www.mcdonalds.ch>
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Collectivistic / individualistic
values - India
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Transparency
“… the extent to which the user is required to make an extra effort
in order to find the information he is looking for.
The term is borrowed from the usability field, referring to the
apparentness and obviousness of the method of use of a website or
other user interface.”
In contrast with Low Context / high transparency sites -
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Transparency
In contrast with Low Context / high transparency sites -
Most HC sites depend on links and information being described by
a limited amount of text, sometimes exchanged with an
illustration. This gives a less transparent, more vague overview of
the content in the website compared to LC sites, and often requires
that the user “chases” the information, through exploration of the
site and performing “mouse-overs” (placing the cursor over a link
to reveal more content information before finally clicking it).
This tendency coincides neatly with the idea that in LC cultures, it
is the sender that does all the work in clarifying information and
getting the point across, while in HC cultures, it is the receiver
who has to work to retrieve the information. (Würtz 2004, 118f.)
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Transparency

Denmark
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Transparency
Japan
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Linear (LC) versus parallel (HC)
navigation

China

hyperstructure
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Implications for Site Design

 Non-verbal communication such as body-language


may represent itself on HC websites through imagery
and animated effects on the website.
 Thought patterns are especially reflected in the
navigation of the site, for instance through the subtle or
obscure guidance and opening of new pages in new
browser windows common on HC websites.
Navigation reflecting the linear thought pattern
prevailing in LC cultures is evident in the restricted
amount of new browser windows as well as apparent
and specific guidance.
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Implications for Site Design
 The collectivism/individualism variable is reflected in the values that
are reflected in the imagery the website, such as images of individuals
versus groups, products placed together with individuals, the
situations that the individuals are placed in and the extent to which
emphasis is placed on community work.
 The power distance dimension is apparent in the hierarchical
structure of the website. High power distance is reflected in tall
hierarchical website structures, either through the implementation of
many pages with incoherent layout, or the opening of new browser
windows for new pages, instead of in the same browser window. Low
power distance is reflected in flat or shallow hierarchical structures,
either through the implementation of few pages with coherent layout,
or the opening of pages within the same browser window.
C. Würtz - McDonalds and “glocalization”
practices on the Web
Implications for Site Design
 The time perception variable, which is tightly bound with the
thought pattern, is also apparent in the navigation of the site. It is
also apparent in the transparency of the site, and whether the
designer relies on the user’s patience and will to explore the site to
seek information.
 The message speed dimension is apparent in the transparency/non-
transparency of the site, implying the amount of effort expected
from the visitor to understand navigational clues. The inclusion of a
virtual, personal representative of the company, as illustrated on the
Japanese McDonald’s website, can perhaps also be considered a
reflection of slow message speed, in relation to the emphasis on
relationships. (Würtz 2004, 120f.)
D. Matters of …
tone
context
metaphor
Has the Tone of Online English
Become Globalized?

Mary Evans, Alicia McBride,


Matt Queen, Alexander Thayer,
and Jan Spyridakis

Department of Technical Communication


University of Washington
Below-surface differences?

Icons, symbols,
colors, graphic
design

Information structure; semantics


and syntax
Tone
 Varies along multiple dimensions
– We focus on formality
 May influence credibility of a text
 May be judged differently by people from
different cultures
 May be related to cultural dimensions
– E.g., power distance
Methodology
 320 university Web sites from 20 countries
– Inner and Outer Circles of English (Kachru, Gilsdorf)
 “About Us” text analyzed
 3 coders tallied frequencies of tone elements:
– Personal pronouns (e.g., I, we, you)
– Passive and active voice clauses
– Verb contractions (e.g., it’s, you’re, we’re)
– Informal punctuation (dashes, ellipses, fragments)
– Friendly language (“Welcome”)
 Overall formality score computed for each site
Formality defined
 Frequencies of individual tone elements were
expressed in standard units (z-scores).
 Z-scores were summed into tone formality scores.
 Passive voice contributes positively and other tone
elements contribute negatively to the score.
 A related study found that the tone elements
influenced perceptions of tone (in the US).
Culture remains influential
 Strong positive correlation between power
distance and tone formality
– The greater the power distance, the more
formal the tone
– Evidence that culture influences online tone
 No correlation between willingness to
express emotion and tone formality
Inner and Outer Circles differ
 Tone is significantly more formal in Outer
Circle countries (India, Philippines, etc.)
– E.g., passive voice significantly more common
 Tone is significantly less formal in Inner
Circle countries (UK, Australia, US, etc.)
– E.g., informal punctuation, personal pronouns
significantly more common
Context, Metaphors
 Context matters!
the context of users - especially if social /
active / collective / performative - can offset
“offputting” effects of (Western) computer
culture (individualism / literate / text-based) -
(Crump 2004)
 Metaphors matter!
“Pipeline vs. river metaphor” vis-à-vis male /
female acceptance / use of computing
technologies (Clayton 2004)
E. Designing for China
 China – websites are more complex, more oriented towards entertainment (high context /
collectivist)
--> more complex because of
1. guiding principle of “give the people what they want at once”
--> “…clearness and transparency in Chinese (yi mu liaoran) not
only means, to ‘get an overview’ but also means ‘ to find
quickly what one is looking for’. …
In contrast to western website that are characterized by a deep
hierarchy and fewer elements on each level, Chinese websites
have a flat hierarchy with as many elements on each level as
possible. (Bucher 2004, 424)
E. Designing for China
--> more complex because of
– 2) “aesthetics of abundance” –Chinese popular
culture, e.g., in New Year’s pictures, calendars,
paintings. “…strong and rich colour, density, and
opulent presentation symbolize happiness and
wealth.” (424)
– 3) search patterns:
– mainland Chinese prefer vertical layout /
– Hong Kong Chinese prefer horizontal
Media Studies

Yahoo! China
CATAC 2002: Power of the
Audience
Bucher@uni-trier.de
Yahoo! US
Main Features Main Features
Music & Email
Search Field Search Field Yahoo!
Headlines Media Studies
Announcement
Overview: Yahoo! Services Overview: Yahoo! Services
Member Section
Advertisement
News
Film News
Sport:
Chinese Soccer League Wallpaper
Downloads Shopping

Web Site Directory


(14 Main Subjects)
Web Site Directory Entertainment
t
(14 Main Subjects) en
m
in
r ta
te

Yahoo! Worldwide
En

Film US Local Yahoo!

SMS Services Other Yahoo! Services

Yahoo! Worldwide
Search Field (2)

Yahoo! China
CATAC 2002: Power of the
Audience
Bucher@uni-trier.de
Yahoo! US
Member Section
Navigation
Media Studies
Advertisement
Advertisement

Service
(Search Maschine)

Service  Yahoo USA: 14 Page elements


(SMS)
News
 Yahoo China: 14 Page elements
Service

Advertisement

 Sina 23 Page elements


Ads
Advertisement

Navigation Classified
Program

Ads
TV

Sina´s Customer
Service (Games)

Tabloid Tabloid
Interactive

News News
Poll

Advertisement
Release

Tabloid News
Press

CATAC 2002: About


Power ofUs
the Bucher@uni-trier.de
Audience
Comment on Sina.com Media Studies

I understand that a portal…needs to arrange


much information on the front page. But since
I’m familiar with Sina, I know where I should
go…but for people unfamiliar, this arrangement
is messy…[it] will be really confusing.
(Hu, Qiping 2002, 22)

CATAC 2002: Power of the Bucher@uni-trier.de


Audience
F. Postlude: designing Arabic-
language sites
In response to this lecture/presentation, Erika C. Linke, Associate Dean of University
Libraries, asked for my suggestions regarding design for Arabic-language websites.
This became the opportunity to test the guidelines presented here - by developing a
hypothesis regarding what culturally-aware website design might look like for Arabic-
language cultures, based in the first instance on Hall’s analysis of Arabic cultures as
“high context/low content.” So I wrote to Dean Linke:
I would be willing to make some predictions, based on analogues with other high-context
cultures (such as China and Japan), e.g., less text/linearity/information - more pictures, more
"entertainment" elements.
What I'm not sure about here would be use of colors. As well, if designing for a high uncertainty
avoidance culture, then it would probably be best to use relatively controlled navigation
structures. (email, August 05, 2004)

I had also asked for assistance in this matter from several colleagues working in Arabic-
language cultures. Deborah Wheeler, who has done “on the ground” research on ICTs
and culture in the Middle-East for many years now, provided a very helpful reply…
F. Postlude: designing Arabic-
language sites
…web site design must be culturally compatable, which means that web sites, for a company
say, are highly graphics based, use lots of flash and java, and have very little text or data.
Another constraint is the tendency to want to keep information private, only shared with
those who are trustworthy or need to know something. Your observations of Asia, apply to
the Arab region. (email, August 5, 2004)

This reply is helpful first of all as it confirms my original hypothesis. This, of course,
doesn’t “prove” anything - but it does suggest that the general frameworks developed
here, based on Hall’s schema (which, nicely enough, began with his work on Arabic-
language cultures) are at least generally helpful.
Secondly, Dr. Wheeler’s reply goes beyond my general hypothesis to provide important
additional information that should be useful to website designers - and to those of us
“surfing” such sites: we should know better what the presence and absence of graphics
and text, respectively, signifies.
Finally, Dr. Wheeler also points us to the following:
Norhayati Zakaria, Jeffrey M. Stanton and Shreya T.M. Sarkar-Barney, "Designing and Implimenting Culturally-
Sensitive IT Applications: The Interaction of cultural values and privacy issues in the Middle East," in
Information Technology and People Vol 16 Issue 1, 2003, pp. 49-75.
Thanks!
In summary…
…design indeed is highly culturally specific and …universal principles
– for example of website usability – are implausible.
-- Bucher 2004, 425

Beyond traditional localization (language, law, appearance, usability) 


sense-making as a function of worldview vs. “design from nowhere”
(Suchman)
…internationalization practices should not be reduced to the interface as
the visible part and operable layer of the system, but to a
consideration of the whole computing system as the “interface”
linking people to their socially constructed and determined activities
(Grudin 1993, in Nocera and Hall 2004)
In summary…
Soraj Hongladarom:
local cultural values may be preserved if…
our research agenda becomes: In what way should the ICTs be adopted
such that they become merged with the lifeworld of the people?

 Provide education (but how and what kind?).


 Develop local content for the locals and let them do it.
 Break the one way flow of information from the West to Thailand
and then to the community.
 Strengthen local values and traditions and at the same time promote
active interaction with outside world.
 Others? (2004)
In summary…
The democratic potential of the Net for promoting
‘civic pluralism’ will partly rely on its being
constructed by those capable of negotiating
global differences, creating multiple, complex
meanings and crossing boundaries (2003).
Beverly Bickel, “Voices of Afghan Women”
<http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol8/issue2/bickel.html>
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