The Internationalization Stack

A new world for web applications

“Software markets and businesses are 10X bigger than they were 10-15 years ago. This is due to the liquidity provided by the global internet.” — Elad Gil, Markets are 10X Bigger Than Ever

“That’s where we are now - we try to work out what it means that almost everyone on earth has a phone or a smartphone.” — Benedict Evans, The End of Mobile

The Internationalization Stack

The recent crop of tech unicorns or IPO babies (Uber, Slack, Airbnb, Coinbase) interest people for a variety of different reasons — some examples could be the ripple effects of employee liquidity or coming together of product / engineering / operations expertise at scale, etc. Given the combination of increasingly large capital pools deployed into early-stage startups with the expansion of global markets, one could draw out a conclusion that these businesses will continue to proliferate in the near future. To me, these companies present a paradigm for a new type of software buyer base with sophisticated and far-reaching technical stacks.

Importantly, the first generation built tools and services internally to contend with the practicalities of reaching customers at a global scale. The next generation can purchase. The exact challenge provides a model for newer companies to procure an “internationalization stack”— tools and APIs embedded in their applications allowing to grow the borders of their business quickly and efficiently. According to W3C, internationalization is “the design and development of a product, application or document content that enables easy localization for target audiences that vary in culture, region, or language.” It plays in the same realm as localization, but for consistency’s sake, I’ll use the former term.

What are the components of this stack?

  • Translation: Translating static + dynamic data into different languages, adding context to raw translations (Lang API, Transifex)

  • Frontend: Resizing and adapting components to fit text changes

  • Accessibility: Tailoring web applications towards global audiences with respect to voice, tone, etc.

  • Infrastructure Orchestration: Configuring cloud infrastructure to serve multiple regions quickly and efficiently

  • Payments: Ability to accept multiple currencies and exchange internally at scale (Currencycloud, Veem)

As a stack, it’s important to distinguish that these services should be baked into web architecture, not sitting external to applications and driven by humans. Consumer content businesses, marketplaces, travel companies, e-commerce brands and SaaS applications are examples of companies that would incorporate features of the internationalization ecosystem. The internationalization stack would not only enable companies with existing global reach but also increase the throughput of startups with this ambition.

Here’s some further reading:

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