When Is a Holiday Not a Holiday?

If you’re building a list of holidays for your local business – to celebrate events, or plan which days to be closed, or temporarily change your website banner accordingly, or promote a seasonal sale – a list of local culturally recognized holidays is probably fine. No one will care if mom and pop’s central Iowa pet shop website, designed for and catering to local patrons, doesn’t recognize, say, Nemzeti ünnep (the Hungarian national holiday).

But if you’re a global organization looking to make sure your product delivers relevant experiences to global users…you probably need something a little more substantial, complicated, and tuned to the cultural norms of your audience (really: audiences, which is the point).

Let’s say I sell greeting cards online: you can search for, personalize, and print out greeting cards for various occasions. Sounds simple, right? But if you have a truly global reach (mine is a very ambitious greeting card website), you need to offer your website and content in different languages…depending on where your users are, maybe a LOT of different languages. So the interface needs to be translated and offered in German and Korean and Russian and so forth: this requires some work, but is definitely doable. (Auto-translating such things is a good way to bootstrap such projects, but a native speaker should probably review them for bizarre inaccuracies and subtle translation errors.)

What about search? Is your metadata all in English? What is the process for leveraging English-language metadata for German-language queries? There are a few possible workflows for this: translate the queries on entry, translate the metadata and build foreign-language search indices, and so on.

In both of these cases, though, the same content objects are in play; they just need to be addressed in various languages.

Trickier, however, is offering a relevant user experience. Germans probably don’t need content about Flag Day or Independence Day or Presidents’ Day suggested to them. Koreans may not associate pumpkins with fall (caveat:I did not research this, maybe they do?). And where are the German- and Korean-specific holidays that ARE relevant to those users? (Hint: translating “Columbus Day” into German is not useful.) Moreover, not every user in Germany wants a German interface and German-relevant content (expats, transplants, immigrants, and so on). So tying geography to language to culture seems like an easy win, but actually presents more problems than it solves.

Also: many places in the world, obviously, have different major religions, and some places are more religiously diverse than others. So how can we offer relevant user experiences for global audiences?

So while this is definitely a taxonomy problem, it’s not only a taxonomy problem; it involves user research, user experience design, interface design, and (obviously) IT support.

And there is no simple answer; this is a very difficult problem with many intricacies. Can users self-identify their preferred location, language, and cultural settings? If they’re logged in, can these attributes be saved? Is there a data privacy danger associated with this option?