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Localization means more than multilingual.

  • Agile/Kanban
Team Leadership

Blackboard is a global education technology company whose product offerings differ in various parts of the world, and in different languages. In order to provide relevant information for site visitors in different markets Blackboard’s new Drupal 8 site had to not only provide content in different languages, but also content specific to each visitor’s geographic location. It also needed to be faster and cheaper for Blackboard to spin up sites of varying complexity in new markets. 


The goal of localization for Blackboard’s corporate site was to provide site visitors from around the world with content specific to their region in their region’s language. This means that in addition to displaying content in different languages, we also needed to be able to incorporate regional and dialect-specific (think “color” vs “colour”) versions of content. Also, since not all product offerings are available in every region we needed region-specific navigation as well (to avoid linking to irrelevant content for some users). All of this variation needed to exist between each regional site while allowing some content types to be shared across each region, such as dynamic “resources”, “case studies” and partner content.


Location Detection: Not only did we need to provide the ability to display regional content, we also wanted users to be aware of it. In order to do this, we use Acquia’s GeoIP service in order to determine where the user is visiting from. If their country doesn’t match the regional content that they are viewing, we present a modal dialog to show them that we have a section of the site that may be better suited for them. Once they either follow the link or indicate that they are happy where they are we set a cookie so that they don’t continually see the alert. If they leave the section that they have selected, we again alert them but provide the option to stay where they have navigated to.

Regional Sections: In order to provide the regional sections of the site we relied heavily on the “group” module. Each region is a “group” entity, with its own content. We have several “group-level” fields that allow us to define things like language, navigation menus that will appear in each section for each group, region-specific 4xx error pages, and the alias that serves as the beginning of the alias for each page belonging to the group.

Each page node is a part of exactly one group. There may be pages in different groups with similar titles and content, but this model allowed us to have content in the same language and still handle regional colloquialisms, dialects, etc. While the distinct page nodes were distinct for each region, we still had to recognize that there were some types of content had to be reused across regional sections, because creating new educational resource nodes with identical content for each region would not be sustainable. Those content types are allowed to belong to multiple groups. Content listings are built in a way so that they only display content that belongs to the regional section that is currently being viewed.

Multilingual: Possibly the most obvious part of localization is enabling content to be displayed in multiple languages. Drupal’s standard multilingual functionality doesn’t really play nicely with a content model that supports multiple versions (product pages can vary between markets) of content in the same language (think spelling differences between American and British English). In order to accommodate the model Blackboard required, we decided to use Drupal’s language modules, but to leave content translation out of the equation. Instead, we would create different nodes for each language that content was to be displayed in. From the administrative side this approach caused us to lose the “translate” operation for nodes, but in turn gave us a huge amount of flexibility. We were still able to create a site that supports content being entered in 10+ languages (including RTL languages like Arabic), and accommodate localized nuance for each region as well.


Blackboard’s requirements were complex, and caused us to rethink our typical multilingual strategy. Instead of creating a site that supports content in multiple languages, the approach that was taken here grants the internal team at Blackboard to create their new regional sections on their site, taking into account available product offerings as well as language and regional nuance - creating a platform for a site that is not only multilingual, but truly global.