Why It’s Important to Catch i18n Bugs on Time?

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If your business depends on an effective UI working in multiple languages, fixing internationalization (i18n) bugs quickly will prevent a range of costly issues, from customer churn to brand damage and compliance. But if you value the success of your software in every country, prevention of i18n issues is the best cure.

What is an i18n bug?

An i18n bug isn’t a type of tropical disease but terminology describing a specific type of error within a subset of the overall localization process, known as internationalization.

Internationalization is the process of preparing software to support local languages and cultural settings. Given it is such a mouthful, the industry has abbreviated the term to i18n.  
 

The broader process of localization is about making a product specific to a target market or region by translating the interface, adapting terminologies, and adopting correct content formats. You’ll see localization shortened to L10n.

You can read more about the distinction between localization and internationalization in Lingoport’s blog, but to focus on the specific bugs that i18n throws up and the importance of catching them early, it can help to compare the internationalization of your UI to a jigsaw puzzle.

Seeing i18n as a jigsaw puzzle

The aim of i18n is to ensure a software UI provides the best experience for a localized audience. That UI isn’t a single entity but a combination of numerous components, like a jigsaw puzzle, that together should present the user with an optimized, seamless piece of software.

  • UI Text strings
  • Software compatibility & settings formats
  • Accessibility for visually impaired
  • Payment methods
  • Tooltips, form fields & buttons
  • Cultural Sensitivity & Interpretation

You cannot send the individual elements of a software’s UI for piece-meal localization, as from a user perspective, the end product is greater than the sum of the parts.

If, for example,  an image of cars on a motorway was localized, not only would all text need translation, but the context:

  • Speed signs would need to appear in the appropriate format
  • Speed limits would reflect local laws
  • Should the cars be shown driving on the left or the right
  • Should the cars be left-hand or right-hand drive


Contextual nuance in software UI can cause i18n issues due to the concatenation of string variables, pluralization, gender, and subtle changes in formatting. These issues are often difficult for developers to identify without the appropriate tools, resulting in costly delays.

The potential impact of common i18n bugs

It should be a surprise to no one that shipping software that doesn’t work as intended is going to hurt your business, but the impact of internationalization bugs is more far-reaching than you might appreciate.

User Experience, Cognitive Load & Customer Churn
i18n bugs will inevitably impact the user experience in both obvious and more subtle yet important ways.

The immediate concern of localization testing will be i18n errors, including incorrect date and time formats or misaligned text that may stop your software from functioning properly, or make it practically unusable, from a user’s perspective.

Just as important but harder to spot are issues that don’t stop the UI from working, but make, in subtle ways, make it harder to understand or culturally confusing. This increases the cognitive load on the user, forcing them to think about how the UI works, which will eventually drive down retention and hurt your business.

Reputational Damage
If i18n bugs increase cognitive load, this inevitably diminishes the opinion the user has of the software and, by association, the brand behind it.

As much as brands are built through creating narratives and building positive associations with a business through clever marketing, they are easily demolished by failing to deliver a functional and effective product that works in every location.

Functional errors that creep into a live product or sloppy adaptation to cultural norms can lead to a perception of poor quality (reflected in damaging negative reviews), lack of attention to detail, or cutting corners. Any or all of those will damage the brand’s reputation.

Speed to Market
Being first and fastest to new markets is equally important to global expansion, but that speed can be negatively impacted by i18n bugs that aren’t resolved quickly.  

Delays to product launches are expensive, especially when there are so many moving parts, such as events, PR, and partners, to consider. Equally damaging is getting a product out the door without proper i18n Quality Assurance (QA), to then start receiving damaging negative customer feedback and fix bugs retrospectively.

Legal Compliance
Some of the i18n issues we’ve discussed so far are hard to put a direct measure on, which actually makes them more insidious because, without the proper localization tools and processes, they can go unnoticed yet be quietly damaging your business.

There are, however, i18n issues that are black and white, including legal compliance, which can vary by country and administrative block. The EU is a good example, with laws around localization of web accessibility and medical devices, which includes software.i18n bugs may amount to non-compliance catching, resulting in legal issues and fines.

Even giants like Microsoft get things wrong, as shown by this example of missing translation in Windows 11, pulled from Reddit 

Operational Costs
i18n bugs can prove very expensive if they are only noticed in the live environment. Apart from the lost revenue from conversion/retention issues, there are the direct costs from diverting developers from other projects, back-to-fix issues, and the internal friction created between teams. 

To maximize cost efficiency, address i18n issues during the development process, where changes can be made more easily and less expensively.

defects introduced in this phase

How Code Debugging Helped Airbnb Scale

A significant part of the success of the online rental giant Airbnb has been attributed to its focus on codebase scalability, concentrating on improving developer efficiency and optimizing debugging time. 

As a subset of development at large, the best practice that contributed to Airbnb’s equally applies to debug within the i18n. Using automation for speed, conducting multiple checks as part of a continuous review process, and measuring the performance of software delivery to put a clear value on resource time.

Airbnb didn’t, however, get everything right straight away, famously misjudging cultural localization by launching in China without adapting their model. The requirement to clean a rental and remove your rubbish, accepted as part of the experience for a Western audience, was an alien concept.

They faced stiff local competition and rebranded in 2017 in China as “Aibiying”, which might sound good in English, “Welcome Each Other with Love,” but didn’t resonate with native speakers.

However, they ramped up local customer service options and added support for Alipay in 2019, which the Chairman of Airbnb China said boosted business by 15% overnight and focused heavily on compliance right – made more complex at the national and regional levels.

But in the face of competitive pressures, those kinds of crucial localization and internationalization pivots can only succeed with a fast and efficient process for debugging the User Interface.

Reduce QA from weeks to hours.

Given the potential impact of i18n bugs can impact every aspect of your business, from brand to compliance, the speed at which your localization team addresses errors will have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your software. 

In recognition of this, Lingoport has developed Globalyzer, a product aimed at making the process of detecting and addressing i18n bugs more efficient.

Globalyzer lets your developers see i18n issues in their development environments as they write or review code. It also analyzes entire repositories and checks for i18n issues during commits and pulls requests.

  • See precisely where the i18n bugs are
  • Track i18n technical debt progress
  • Fix i18n bugs before localization efforts even start
  • Make your localization team a hub for best-in-class i18n development practices

Prevention of i18n bugs is the best cure

Localization is about breaking into new markets to win new customers, but if you launch your product without catching i18n bugs, you are creating a poor first impression of your product that might be hard to change. Trust arrives on a snail but leaves on a horse.

Globalyzer is the ideal tool for detecting i18n bugs before they become a problem.

Effective localization is not just about software but applying overall best practices, so if you want to minimize the chance of i18n bugs creeping into your product in the first place, take a holistic view of your localization. Prevention is the best cure.

Talk to Lingoport today to improve your software UI localization processes.

Author

Kate Vostokova
Kate Vostokova
Kate is a seasoned B2B content marketing manager with a five-year journey in the localization industry. She is passionate about crafting various types of content to educate people about internationalization (i18n), localization, and the latest technological advances, including Large Language Models (LLMs).