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I'm Not Japanese (sachagreif.com)
189 points by sgdesign on Aug 22, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 121 comments

>> Does Google assumes that we live in The Matrix, and you can learn a new country’s language instantly as soon as you move there? >>

Google is making the (accurate) calculation that over 99% of people coming from a Japanese IP address whose computer says "Accept-Language: en-gb;q=0.9, en;q=0.7" are actually Japanese speakers of Japanese (true preference: "Accept-Language: ja-jp;q=1.0; en;q=0.000001") whose configurations have been borked at the manufacturer or the IT department level, and who will be terribly served by content written in English. It's an act of charity that they even ask about English prior to defaulting you into Japanese. (They haven't always done that -- every year or two it seems to switch for me.)

This is a particularly acute issue since most users of Google don't actually have accounts on it, their best attempts to fix that to the contrary. As a result, in key ways such as language, the service needs to "just work" for the majority of their users. Also, if I was to have a totally clinical view of the situation, the expected value of 1 English speaker in terms of ad clicks is ridiculously below the expected value of 1 Japanese speaker in terms of ad clicks, given that both are in Japan (+), and you're asking to sacrifice 99 Japanese speakers to save the 1 English speaker. Once you accept that there will be a loser in this decision either way, figuring out who the loser should be is not that hard. Sorry: I'd prefer English, too.

>> And by the way, want to check out a post on Blogspot? Off to blogspot.jp you go. This doesn’t change the page itself, only the URL. So what does redirecting me accomplish, except make me feel that I’m not in control of what sites I can access? >>

This is a hack around censorship laws in a few places (most relevantly to the instant case, Germany, I believe). Google has a blogspot.jp which is a copy of .com which is a copy of .de which is a copy of... except that they enforce country-specific censorship laws. This was deemed an acceptable tradeoff versus getting all of blogspot blacklisted in e.g. Germany.

n.b. No special inside knowledge here.

(+) If this is not intuitively obvious to you talk to me about AdWords geotargetting and default settings sometime.

I am logged on to Google, and they know I want English results and an English interface, because I've gone through and done all the settings. And yet, occasionally something goes wonky and they start showing me the interface in Italian again.

I have no problems if their default is the local language - that's pretty much a no-brainer - but when I've told them in no uncertain terms what my own preferences are, they ought to respect that.

Same here. I travel a lot and use VPN to access the corporate network. So if I am in the Chinese office google goes Chinese (and it takes some random guessing to switch the language back to English) then in the hotel (via VPN) it promptly goes German.

One small improvement would be to write the name of the language in the original and not in whatever country's version. (e.g. English instead of Angol, etc).

It randomly flicks in and out of German for me all the time (I live in Germany). I have ravaged the settings to change this, but to little effect. At least I am gradually getting better at German!

For some reason I tend to get Google's authentication pages in Hungarian (at least I think that's what it is), despite being in Sweden with sv_SE/sv/en_US/en configured in the browser and Google's services set to use English.


For me sometimes it switches to Arabic even if I set the settings. And here in north Africa most people are francophone and prefer French or English !

> Google is making the (accurate) calculation that over 99% of people coming from a Japanese IP address whose computer says "Accept-Language: en-gb;q=0.9, en;q=0.7" are actually Japanese speakers of Japanese

Google is making the (completely wrong) assumption that those people cannot type google.co.jp instead of google.com and make their own choices.

But at least in Japan they're probably right about the language. Google pulls the same crap in multilingual countries, and gets it wrong a lot of the time. This isn't Google being smart, this is Google being lazy and insensitive.

> Google is making the (completely wrong) assumption that those people cannot type google.co.jp instead of google.com and make their own choices.

You're making the completely unsupported assumption that the average internet user understands domain names. Like patio11 suggested, if a user from a Japanese IP is accessing google.com, it's likely that this address was pre-configured in some way: the search bar was set up like that, or the company sysadmin set up the home page like that. But even if the user manually typed "google.com", if they're in Japan it's still (way) more likely that they wanted a Japanese version rather than the English one.

Come on, most users outside the US are perfectly used to a plethora of international TLD's. It's something they are quite familiar with.

Also, they either use the English version of the OS and browser, or the one in their language, and both come with the default correct preferred language settings.

The same goes for company systems. You don't give someone who can't handle English an English language system, and the idea of setting up a system in language X but pre-configuring that in some what that English becomes the preferred browser language is a really odd edge case.

Even if such scenarios are more common, it still doesn't excuse telling people that make explicit choices to go fuck themselves, especially in multi-lingual countries where such explicit choices are common.

Japan may be relatively homogenous, but most countries in Europe are either formally multilingual or have large immigrant populations. Many thousands of people are regularly being confronted with misplaced assumptions about their preferred language.

You can't assume language from geo-IP databases, it is the most unreliable and inappropriate method imaginable, and you are 100% sure to regularly piss people off.

What method is more reliable than guessing the language based on the IP address?

Ask the user, remember preference. Possibly Accept-Language (note - not locale, as locale != language). But, ask the user.

That's kind of orthogonal to how you guess the user's language. It is, in fact, what Google is doing.

Agreed. Talk to mundane users. You will find out that many of them go to Facebook by typing "www.facebook.com" into Google's search bar.

People don't know the difference between the google search bar and the address bar.

Google isn't being lazy & insensitive. I18N is hard.

> I18N is hard.


Shouldn't US users then be using google.us, and uk users use google.co.uk and should google.com just redirect to the language of the location of the user?

Yes. But google.us acts the same as google.com when it comes to location redirects though (e.g., I have a Canadian IP and en-us;0.9 Accept-Language, it redirects me to google.ca).

It asked her if she wanted Japanese and she clicked yes and it gave her Japanese. What crap do you think anyone is pulling here?

Also, if in Japan, I would be surprised to find google.com not to be in Japanese, and I would expect to have to perhaps make some kind of preparations for the fact that the majority of the world does not speak my language and that my electronic devices and services are not universal metatrons run by omnipresent deitys either.

Yes, but google.co.jp does just fine. The automatic country redirects are the main issue. I wouldn't go to Microsoft.com and expect it to be in Chinese any more than if I went to Baidu.cn and expected it to be in English. The country domain is the ideal way to handle regional preference, I don't need the software doing it for me. I'm not an idiot, stop treating me like one.

Country domain is the worst way to handle language preference. We already have a perfectly valid way to handle language preference with Accept-Language. There is no need to register domain under every possible country domain you could localize. And countries do not equal languages. Bilingual countries would be screwed if country domains were the only option.

Why is it the worst way to handle language preference?

If you are a local you are probably very used to your country domain, it is probably on par with .com.

Now the Accept-Language is quite subtle and guess how that is set up in an internet café? Can you even change it? Will the next customer be happy about that? I'd be mighty impressed if more than 1% of the people that surfs the web has a clue about Accept-Language.

Also, if one asks for a local country domain that really should be the localized version, sometimes I actually want to use google for a language different other than my own.

If I for instance wanted to search in English on something that has a similar wording as Swedish I'd like to go to google.com in order to quickly get rid of the Swedish-bias (since that doesn't work I sometimes use google.co.uk instead).

Yes, but you're going to run into the problem that patio11 pointed out. You are in a tiny minority and they don't want to inconvenience the vast majority just because your preference is 'better'.

>I'm not an idiot, stop treating me like one.

Many people are however, and mass media, which includes Google, however they may try to deny it, lives by the numbers, which means adapting to the lowest common denominator. Just think, as the Internet spreads, Google will evolve (devolve) closer and closer to broadcast TV!

If I was in China and looked at microsoft.com, I would think they were absolute idiots if it didn't default to Chinese. If you don't localise for all your major territories from your .com domain and force them to use a country domain instead, then you should shoot your marketing director immediately.

>Google is making the (accurate) calculation that over 99% of people coming from a Japanese IP address whose computer says "Accept-Language: en-gb;q=0.9, en;q=0.7" are actually Japanese speakers of Japanese

From the article:

>The problem is compounded by the fact that most of the time, you have no way of doing anything about it. And when you can do something, it’s often buried in layers of menus, which –don’t forget– are all in Japanese, Bhutanese, or Martian…

I think you're missing a key point in the article.

This is only a problem for those who:

1. Are in the tiny minority of people in Japan who don't speak Japanese


2. Chose to switch to Japanese when Google asked them if they'd prefer Google in Japanese or English

Google guessing that she might have been Japanese was not the major problem here. The ultimate problem was her incorrectly stating her language preference. It's hard to see what reasonable measures Google could have taken to inconvenience fewer people here.

Actually, it's a problem for anyone who speaks a language that is different from the official language of the country they are in, and don't have a Google account (a lot of people.) In any case, a persistent language menu on all Google properties that has all languages available would solve either and all other problems associated with language choice.

Most browsers set the default Accept-Language header correctly. If some IT department screwed it up, it's not the reason to ignore the standards. My HTTP request data should be a priority over my IP address location. And Accept-Language is just that mechanism to set a preferred language for the response.

In all my travels I had to deal with language issues from Google. But it goes beyond that, as the vast majority of i18n'ed sites favor IP location over Accept-Language. I find this trend saddening.

Yeah, if an IT department messed up, call the helpdesk and complain. The setting will either be fixed or support should be able to get you through the menus to correct the setting on your own.

I agree with you for logged out users, but these things happen even when you are logged in.

> This is a hack around censorship laws in a few places (most relevantly to the instant case, Germany, I believe). Google has a blogspot.jp which is a copy of .com which is a copy of .de which is a copy of... except that they enforce country-specific censorship laws. This was deemed an acceptable tradeoff versus getting all of blogspot blacklisted in e.g. Germany.

what event/law are you referring to? why blogspot should be censored in germany?

Germany has many laws which are different that e.g. the USA. In particular, in the US certain sentiments which are politically and socially radioactive are protected by the US Constitution and the laws, traditions, and expectations of the American polity. Germany is similar in some regards but there is one particular politically and socially radioactive statement you could make -- support for the Nazi Party -- which, owing to the laws, traditions, and expectations of the Germany polity, will result in the government coming down on you like a ton of bricks.

I know Germany and many other countries in Europe are more sensitive about promoting extreme viewpoints. My question was more about something specific related to censoring blogspot, and how the domain redirects are used to bypass that. I mean, how does it matter what domain is used to display the same content? OP says he's redirected to blogspot.jp - what problems does it solve for Google?

> * how does it matter what domain is used to display the same content?*

It only displays the same content if that content is compliant for the local region.

Thus, in the Nazi example, all off blogspot get the posts except blogspot.de, who filter it out somehow.

That's something that Youtube doesn't do with adverts very well - I'm in the UK, I've not left the UK, my IP geolocates to the UK, but I often get US ads in Youtube. Advertising law is different and often the ads are not compliant for the UK.

Presumably articles that need to be censored in Germany would be censored on blogspot.de and not on blogspot.com, so Germans are redirected.

All countries have different laws in this department, but moves to segment or restrict Internet content all kinda goes back to a French case against Yahoo a while back:


I have noticed this in referral logs. They do it for tons of countries (I would guess all based on how many I see). Does Google automatically remerge all that to treat it as one domain for pagerank (so links to those separate domains are just treated as if they linked to the .com page), duplicate content, etc.?

This is not entirely so. When I visited Japan, my browser prompted "We've detected you've moved to Japan, would you like to change..."

That to me seems wrong. No one learns a language in 7 hours.

But many people learn a language before going to a country, and some portion of those will want to use it because switching back and forth between languages can be hard. I don't think it's a bad question to ask, at all.

You could speak both and prefer to use the Japanese version when in Japan (to get better local results, for instance). The site has no way of knowing your particular situation, so they ask rather than defaulting to one or the other.

»This is a hack around censorship laws in a few places«

Wow, I had no idea. I thought it was some obnoxius kind of load-balancing or something like that :)

This is one of the most infuriating things about traveling internationally. Sites that probably know more about me than I know about myself assume that I am a native of wherever I happen to be at the moment and make it difficult-to-impossible to alter that site behavior.

If I was a completely anonymous user coming in from a location it would be an understandable. But I'm not anonymous, I am logged in to the same account I've been using for a decade that in almost every other use case was US-ian English. So there really isn't any excuse. Absent any active attempt to change settings on my part, that I prefer US-ian centric settings is an easy inference to make even when I travel.

I want to believe there is a rationale for doing things this way but I can't think of one. All it does is make the Internet barely usable when I travel to many countries.

All of which is a case for delineating language content by TLD. It's easy enough, with fewer dialect subdirs than the monolithic techniques often employed by sites, but IME TLDs just offer a default with all the complications you describe carried from region to region.

But hey, Google's always been this way. Before you could even log in they used to have a "Settings" pane where you cuold set your language to be saved in a cookie. It would get lost all the time; you'd always have to reset it.

That's it in a nutshell. Thanks for expressing my frustration so clearly!

This kind of thing pisses me off regularly. Google is one of the worst offenders, completely ignoring browser language preferences.

But American websites in general are awful at this. They completely ignore local diversity and sensitivities and simply assume "one country, one language", so they will for instance happily present Flemish users with French interfaces.

It's fucking offensive. If I type google.com instead of google.nl or google.de or google.co.jp and my browser preferred language is English, I have made it pretty damn clear what I want.

Do the sites in question even have Flemish interfaces?

Flemish is a dialect of Dutch and therefore they should present a Dutch language interface if available, but really the only sensible thing to do when detecting a Belgian IP is defaulting to English (or browser preference) and making it really easy to switch to other languages.

Google has been OK for me (except when it starts to display in German out of the blue), but other sites like myspace are pathetic. In a country where the majority speaks Dutch, they default to French and make it very confusing to change the language.

It is slightly more offensive to assume that .com + browser settings == english above the country you are originating from, if you aren't speaking english, anyway.

Really? The country I'm visiting from says nothing definitive about my language of choice. Absolutely nothing.

Choosing google.com instead of google.nl however is a clear choice. Setting the preferred language of my browser is an even more explicit choice.

How can honoring explicit choices be more offensive than assuming the visitor is an idiot who can't think for themselves?

"Choosing google.com instead of google.nl however is a clear choice."

No it isn't, .com is the global domain, not the english one.

True, but even Google.us, which abolutely is an American domain extension, is set to thai for me.

> .com + browser settings == english

Browsers are often configured improperly and it's not always practical to rely on them but it definitely isn't offensive to follow the explicit preferences sent by the browser.

As someone who works every day at a Japanese startup that has a Japanese/English bilingual UI, can generate documents in different languages than the user, multi-currency, Japanese address formatting aware, etc.. I can say that these problems are actually quite hard to get right for most use cases. For most companies it's not worth it.

However, once the user has logged into your site as is the common case with google properties, there is no excuse for serving the page in the wrong language. For months google calendar on my iPhone here in Tokyo would be in Japanese. All of the other tabs on the mobile google site would be English but just google calendar would be Japanese locale. As far as I could tell there was no way to fix it. Then one day it was fixed. I still see this mistake all over the place with other sites.

I actually blame the rise of geo-ip and location databases for enabling the ability to geo-locate users. Something about giving developers the rope to hang themselves with…

Actually, this problem also exists for native speakers in their own countries. I'm a German in Germany, yet when I'm searching for technical terms, in the overwhelming majority I want English results because they are better. (The German results are often just blog posts regurgitating what somebody else wrote in English.)

It used to be that I could use www.google.de for German searches, and www.google.com/ncr for English searches, but that does not (reliably) work anymore. I now grudgingly type www.google.com/?hl=en in the address bar more often than not.

Exactly. When it comes to the world of programming and IT, English is the lingua franca. I'm French but spend 99% of my time on the English-speaking web. The French edition of Google is only good at pissing me off.

On Google Search: Options -> Search settings -> Languages

There you can change the language(s) of your search result. I think you can mark up to 10 languages.

Except it still gives me mostly bad German results for technical queries if I don't completely remove German there.

Google provides those settings but it seems to randomly ignore them or at least I can't discern a pattern.

It's not randomly. In work I use Iceweasel for private gmail (and Chrome for company gmail), where I have set Results per page to 100 and chose to Never show Instant results long time ago. It simply does not work!

I go to google.com, start typing and Google starts showing me some instant results and hitting Enter gives me only 10 results per page. (The same settings are respected for non-private gmail in Chrome, though.)

And I use DuckDuckGo instead of Google. The upside is that if I want German results, I can just go to Google - no annoying configurations, just DDG for English and Google for German. Still, I really resent this behavior by Google.

Just had yet another try at switching to DDG. The results are so extremely inferior to Google that I switched back after I had to use !g for 5 of 5 searches to find what I want.

To get the U.S. results (for eg.), run the query on google.com (google.com/ncr) and then append "&gl=us" to the URL. For eg. compare :



See also : http://www.labnol.org/internet/search/how-to-see-google-resu...

This is a common expat pita. So you move to a new country, the digital world decides that you now must immerse yourself in that country. And its quite true: the expat demographic is minuscule so why bother accommodating it? Its only because the technical barriers for it not being that way are so low, that we expect the digital world to be different from the physical world, but really, each country has its own commerce laws and you have to essentially "break the rules" to say...operate your iTunes account from a non-local address so you can still buy things in English.

Google isn't so bad as long as you login; in fact the first hint I'm not logged in usually comes from a bunch of Chinese search results. Really, this isn't as big a deal as region coding, Netflix, Hulu, and VPNs that are constantly being attacked by your host government.

If you are traveling and Google is trying to send you to a country specific site, you can use this address to tell Google you actually really want to go to Google.com:

I believe the NCR stands for No Country Redirect.

But as the article points out, many websites make it harder than it aught to be use them from other countries. Some Japenese websites sometimes even actively try to prevent foreigners from using them by require text entry in hiragana and disabling copy-paste with javascript.

Never explain with malice what is adequately explained by a decisionmaker who hasn't touched his computer in three weeks and needed the email responded to by his secretary saying "I don't want anyone copying our website!"</painful memories>

At least for me, that does not work anymore.

However, http://www.google.com/?hl=en works.

They've removed this. They've also removed the "Google.com in English"-button from foreign Google.com languages.

I have experienced the same annoying redirects, even when I correct it - they again redirect to a geo search site. This has been happening less for some reason. Also I use DuckDuckGo a lot more and don't have that problem.

YouTube is even worse. It has all sorts of data on what I view and like... Yet if I travel it acts as though my preferences have drastically changed. This just seems extremely lame. It is the oposite of "organizing the world's information" sensibly. The only way to see non-hyper local completely unwanted videos is a vpn.

The biggest complaint I have is how windows 3.1 like the whole experience is. Let me make my settings and have those stick. Don't hide preferences in some crazy gui (windows style) and make it some hard to retain your preferences. If they want the default behavior to be that search results have little to do with the person and most to do with the geo location Google thinks you are at fine. Just make it obvious what you are doing (showing me massively manipulated results based on location - and tell me what location you think that is). And let me have a simple way to set my preferences to search based on USA location (or if there is some legal reason this can't be done just tell me so I don't wonder why the results are so crazy).

I have a similar compounded problem:

I live in Japan, my systems are configured in English, but when I'm at the office my internet is routed through a proxy which is somehow localized to India (I have no idea where is its actual location).

- I get Google in English most of the time (though sometimes it will pop back to Japanese)

- Google account settings on the other hand will most of the time show in Japanese (I'm OK though, I know the language)

- Search results include Japanese language websites at home

- I get Japanese ads at home and Indian ads at work, especially funny on Youtube.

- Google Maps is all over the place though, sometimes showing me Japan, India but also defaulting to US of A...

Note: you rant about two settings for language, but that makes sense. I want to see the Google interface in English because this is my preferences for interfaces, but I want local search results including Japanese language websites because that is what's useful to me most of the time.

Yes, but as far as I can tell the two settings are not for the Google UI and the Google Search Results (which would make sense). They're for Some Google Products (i.e. Google Plus) and Google Search (both UI and search results).

I might be mistaken on this, but I don't think there is a way to set the search results language independently of the UI language.

I just tried it out and found this: http://i.imgur.com/KL0bW.png

Interestingly, I did a search through Chrome to get to the Google search results page, I was not logged in and everything was in English. I proceed to login and get reverted to Japanese (not my default). As I said before, my settings keep getting changed automagically all the time...

Desktop applications on Windows are particularly prone to this kind of thing. If you happen to have an english version of Windows, but the locale (timezone, currency) set to another region, many applications assume you also want the interface in that region's language.

This is extremely annoying (especially when there's no way to choose the language manually) and moreso considering there's a way to know the language of the system.

I've also had several problems with compilers and IDE. Recent example: Visual C++ detects that my computer has a Japanese environment and switches its messages to Japanese. Qt Creator takes these messages and displays them in its output box, in the process borking them completely (□□□□ etc.), even though its own interface is in Japanese as well. Now I couldn't find a switch to make the compiler output English when called on the command line, so I eventually just used VC++ as the main IDE.

A lot of programs require command-line switches on every invocation to change the language if it's not the same as your OS locale.

I would really like if they would look at your OS languages and use that. If I am in France (or any other non English speaking country) and I use my English languages device please show me the English site. Also the "you are on a mobile site therefore I show you my crappy mobile site, without the possibility to go do the desktop site" is really annoying especially on a tablet. While most browsers can be set on show desktop site allot of sites just look at the OS. Only browser that works is Opera. TL;DR stop thinking you know better than your users what languages/site format they want.

This drives me crazy all the time.

Even my OS and browser are in English and i made search with "English words" ( eg. "operating system" instead of "Betriebssystem" ), search results are in German because i'm in Germany.

At some level it's acceptable but things get weird when i use my girlfriends notebook ( english OS, chinese browser ) : Now google decides to obey "Accept-Language" and even i sign in with my google account, google switch language to Chinese. Since google tries and fails to being "smart" , i have to switch constantly between English, German and Chinese.

I use Windows with an English localization and most of the software installers irk me to no end by defaulting to French because they don't rely on the system language but my location.

I also hate the fact that I have to do something as cumbersome as putting the browser in private mode whenever I'm using someone else's computer to make a search on the english side of google since, like for japan, google.com redirects to google.fr instead of letting me use the US database so I have to go in the preferences and do so in private mode so as to not mess with the cookies as they wouldn't be pleased if their google permanently turned English even on google.fr. God damn it.

Hey GOOGLE, domain names are not just for show, FFS. If I want the French edition, I'll go to google.fr. If I want it in English, I'll go to google.com. Don't mess with something that worked rather well since the beginning of the Internet.

I hate programmers who try to write "smart" software. Software that makes attempts at thinking in your stead. Fuck off ! I know what I want, you don't need to make annoying guess works.

The fix:


You should be able to configure your search engine pref (at least in Firefox and Chrome) to reflect this.

I hate this trend, too. I've always felt that if I go to the .com, then it should offer English by default. If I go to google.co.jp, then you can show me Japanese. Living in Taiwan, I did slowly get used to the traditional Chinese character web. But there's no way I want to or even can go through that every time I take a week-long trip somewhere.

Respect the language settings of my browser, or even my machine as a reasonable default and the world is a better place!

Why should .com be an automatic english language domain? It defines no single country.

co.uk co.us co.au

for example, I'd be surprised if they defaulted to anything other than English for a public website. But not .com

While .com doesn't define a single country, there was a huge development of US .com sites (and the internet in general) before there was much of an internet presence outside the English speaking world at all. In fact since most browsers (early and modern both) came out of the US, there wasn't even support for some non-roman character sets until later. That's how history went.

Furthermore, English is the single language widely use by travelers, heard in movies and even in local pop songs all over the world. English is the one language in which nearly anyone on the internet can recognize the name of their own language. Anyone in Russia could recognize that "Russian" refers to their own language, but how many Spaniards would realize that "スペイン語" was what they had to click on a Japanese site to find their own language?

Anything other than English would be a terrible default for a .com

Rdio, for one, is restricted by its licensing agreements with the record labels.

and the worst part is, it can be solved with a simple tiny link/dropdown 'language' in the header or footer, it's not rocket science.

...unless the language menu is itself localized. This happens so often its not funny. Even finding the language menu is hard, since its title often localized also.

This bugs the hell out of me, what is wrong with little flag + two letter code to indicate the current language, and maybe a little arrow to indicate that it is a menu you can select from.

I agree a drop down list is the nice solution.

But it's not as easy as a bunch of flags and ISO 3166 codes.

What happens for countries where there is no official language and two languages commonly spoken? (US: English and Spanish; Spain: Spanish and Catalon etc etc.)

Yahoo Japan thinks I'm a woman despite my Yahoo profile saying otherwise. All I get is ads for women's undies and makeup.

Google's search is pretty bad too, it really pushes me to the Japanese page even though I want English since the results differ. They hide the English page link way at the bottom in small font text and don't make clear that it's the English version.

A better explanation is that Yahoo! Japan believes you are a cross-dresser...

There definately is a correlation of "coming up with this thought" and "what username do I pick on HN?".

Maybe their machine learning thinks your transsexual.

Yahoo Japan thinks you're a typical Yahoo Japan user.

At least Google let's you keep a single account. Apple is awful in this regard. The App Store experience is the worst I've ever experienced with regards to this problem. I despise it. I point to it a shining example of how despite all the credit they get, they can fail hard at basic elements of usability.

Google customises its searches to such a degree that I've set up two different quick search keywords in chrome:

ge : will search google.com with primary language = en g : will search google.co.jp with primary language = jp

I get wildly different result sets every time. And usually, one is spot on with what i'm looking for and the other is useless.

It gets even better. My OS is in English. My browser is set to English and prefers English. My Android phone is in English. I have Google set to English. At all the 3 different places I could find.

Most of Google is in English. https://accounts.google.com/b/0/SmsAuthConfig is set to German with no possibility to change it (that I can see). The Android market shows me German movies, German books and German games.

I honestly believe the only way to have a decent, single-language experience is to live in a purely English speaking country, never move away, never use a device that was used in a non-English-speaking-country and of course speak English.

Seems to be really hard to save somewhere what someone wants -.-

Use Google No Country Redirect.

I struggled with this at length both for my computers and those of my children until I found the obscure google switch:


That tells google not to attempt to redirect to local language. You will have to set this in your search preferences as the google search URL.

Hope this helps,


This drives me crazy when I travel to Korea. I inevitably spend a day or two hunting through preferences to get Google to stop serving me Korean Language pages. Eventually it seems to "stick", but I have to set it back to English at least two or three times.

I never thought about it in terms of personalization, I figured that being in Korea I should be getting Korean pages served to me, and I would have to make the effort to get it back to English.

There is also the inverse problem on some input interfaces. I do have to write emails, sms, weibos, HN comments in English, Chinese and French. I don't know how ios handle this issue but on you have to open a thing, tap, close, and it is not very convenient. I use Swype beta, which is actually good, but it is annoying to live in a world where monolingual is the norm.

I have no figure but I'd guess multilingual is actually the norm in many countries.

It doesn't make much sense that Google switched languages when you wife told it to? You are kidding right?

And you think you are being fair!!!

There is also a minor problem with google play - it shows local currency, and I couldn't find how to switch it to dollars.

And amazingly, going to Google Maps still defaults to a map of the US... (edit: when you go to maps.google.com)

Well sure. just like ditu.google.cn defaults to a China map. maps.google.co.uk defaults to a UK map, maps.google.fr defaults to France. Google IS an American company, so maybe google.com ought to direct to a US map.

Perhaps deep down you really want to be Japanese though. Google might know you better than you know yourself.

This isn't isolated to google, bing is far worse because it's difficult to switch languages. Then there are a gazillion company product support sites which also default the language for you, particularly tricky when you are looking for a specific driver update.

Language settings aside, this guy also completely misses the point of how CDNs and localised data centres work, and why it's beneficial to serve localised content rather than constantly dragging Japanese traffic through American data centres.

Maybe it doesn't work as well as we want it to on the fringes. Maybe, just maybe, there are bugs in their software. I know, it's hard to fathom, bugs in software. Google is not immune to this just because they're Google. The fact that everybody seems to think they are entitled to perfectly working free software products is an amazing testament to the quality of what they produce.

Google products are in fact written by humans, and are therefore imperfect. It will have bugs. So let's all rein in the misplaced outrage and reflect on all the amazing stuff Google provides to us, free of charge.

Then, please go watch this Louis CK clip, and then re-evaluate whether this is worth a blog post.


My girlfriend worked in Spain last year, so I spent about 4 months living in Madrid. I've been back in Australia for 6 months, but the majority of my Facebook ads still show up in Spanish.

i was about to post a blog of how angry i am that i see the localized version of google when i change to analytics or change to y adwords account it pisses me off! just give me ENGLISH!

To me, the saddest thing about this problem is that the solution is over to just write less code. Be less smart, instigate fewer aggressive redirects to "mobile" sites.

This is common. I am spanish living in Germany. If you want to change the language the only thing that works is:

- Buy a machine in the contry you want and proxy through it.

I'm Japanese.

I'm customizing my Chrome's ominibox to use both google.com and google.co.jp. And I'm also configuring amazon, wikipedia, googlemap and so on the same way.

Lifehacker and other multinational blogs should take note as well.

The cynic in me wants to tell you that you'll only learn Japanese better if you immerse yourself ;)

There is a link at the bottom of the home page called "google.com". It has magic powers!

Why should I link to google.com when that's what I typed in the first place?

The classical mistake of assuming the language should be the same as the locale.

A mistake in the sense that it ignores a standard that everyone else ignores, but delivers the correct language to 99.999% of the visitors?

(Hint: most people in Japan speak Japanese. There are 126,000,000 Japanese in Japan, compared to 1,000,000 foreigners. Most of the foreigners are Korean and Chinese and probably understand Japanese just fine. Hell, so do most Americans, probably. My point is: if you're in Japan, it's quite reasonable for a website to default to Japanese.)

I'm sorry but doesn't a VPN solve this problem?

It also introduces other problems, like latency.


there you go.

I’m not Japanese.

No shit.

But ever since my wife and I moved to Kyoto, the Internet sure seems to think we are.

The internet does not think. Or if it does, it has weird proto-dreams of kittens and porn. But it does not think of you, or your wife.

Google is supposedly this big, Skynet-like company that lives to collect data on us.

Stop believing the shiny box. It lies.

Yet it’s not very smart about language.

Pot. Kettle.

As soon as we stepped foot in the land of the rising sun, it asked my wife if she wanted to display Google in Japanese, and she clicked “yes” by mistake.

And unfortunately, it launched the nukes.

Not only did Google start showing her its user interface in Japanese, but the real problem was that all her search results were from Japanese sites, too!

But it didn't launch the nukes after all, but instead did exactly as instructed.

And going back seemed impossible.

Here in our story, our protagonist discovers entropy.

Going through Google.com instead of Google.co.jp did nothing. Changing her langage settings was just as useless.

My god. Those evil fiends. Is just like that bit in the bible where they build a tower to heaven and stuff.

Turns out Google Search uses a different language preference page.

Wooo! We have finality. There are two preference panes. Which are really hard to find if you change language to something you cant read by pressing the wrong buttons.

And furthermore, google are just a big company and have no magic wizards that do magic and stuff. They do not know what you are thinking unless you are within a couple of meters at best. So do not expect things to know what you meant to do but didn't for at least the next 2 years or so.

I was being very snarky, admittedly. The article just really irritated me and I was extremely drunk on rum.

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