The localization of the South African web

By Niall McNulty

Over the past year I’ve noticed an interesting trend in the Analytics statistics for the Ulwazi Programme, one of the online projects I manage. There has been an increase in the number of web searches in isiZulu (the local vernacular in eThekwini, where the project is based) and a corresponding increase in the isiZulu content accessed on the Ulwazi Programme’s website. This in turn has led to an increase in the number of isiZulu comments we receive on the blog and emailed enquiries we receive from users. For those who are interested, I go to into the case of the Ulwazi Programme in a bit more detail in the paper ‘Local Users, Local Language, Local Content’, presented at last year’s IAMCR Conference, which can be read here.

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South Africa’s eleven languages

So what is happening? In short, I think the web in South Africa has moved from a predominantly English, fringe media to a broader, more mainstream media, with people now searching for content in their home language. This argument can be backed up by the recent release of ‘The New Wave’ report, which states that in South Africa “one in three (34%) adults now use the Internet; two out of three Internet users (66%) speak an African language at home” The full report can be read online here.

The decision by News24, South Africa’s largest online news portal, to start publishing an isiZulu version of the portal – located at http://isizulu.news24.com – also seems to support this argument, suggesting that a business case can be made for publishing in other South Africa languages.

There is still a long way to go until we have a fully multilingual South Africa web; for example, the isiZulu-language version of Wikipedia currently contains only 573 articles. However, there has recently been a promising attitudinal shift, with a project we are involved with – enanda.co.za – requiring a completely bilingual website as part of their project proposal.

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