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Facebook take long-awaited steps into internationalisation

Rachel Hawkes (Social Media Portal) - 08 February 2008

Facebook is now available in Spanish as the social utility makes its first step in internationalising the site.  With the announcement also came the news that the site will also be translated into French and German within the coming weeks.

Thanks to 1500 existing Spanish speaking members who translated the site, current users can change their language preferences immediately through the Account Settings panel.  From Monday 11 February, existing and potential members accessing the site from a Spanish-speaking country will automatically see the site in their native language.

As one of the world’s most popular social networking sites, Facebook has over 64 million users, with almost three million of those in Latin America and Spain (who prior to today were accessing the site in English).  

Mark Zuckerberg, the site’s young founder and CEO feels that having a multi-language utility is important to the direction of the company.  “Over 60 percent of Facebook users are now outside of the U.S., and many live in countries where English is not the primary language.”

The translation into Spanish was a huge community effort, with a translator application enabling Spanish users to translate the site whilst browsing within it.  “Our goal has always been to allow people to use Facebook in their native language so we built an application to enable users to participate in translating the site into their local languages and dialects,” explains Zuckerberg.

The translations were then put to a community vote, with the most popular translation ‘making the cut’ such as “dar un toque” being chosen to describe the Facebook “poke.”  One enthusiastic translator was responsible for the translation of three per cent of the entire Facebook website.

In the near future, Facebook will open the translator application up further to allow developers to have their applications translated by the community.   

In being slow to capitalise on its success and international appeal by establishing Facebook in other languages, Facebook have been ‘cloned’ by sites such as Xianoei in China, Vkontakte in Russia, StudiVZ in Germany and DesiMartini in India.  Xianoei, StudiVZ and DesiMartini have all since been acquired – clearly demonstrating that regionalised versions of the social networking site work.

The Facebook community have been asking for localised versions for some time, with one Facebook Group “Let the Community Localize Facebook” setting out a description of how they thought the internationalisation of Facebook should happen – and it seems Facebook followed their advice – to the letter (although many months later).

From the Facebook Group, “Suggested features include the ability of anyone who registers as a translator to suggest a translation, and for others to vote on suggestions when there is more than one, but this is open to discussion.  Benefits include overtaking MySpace in the international market by offering more localized versions, while maintaining the superior quality and perceived exclusivity of Facebook and the Facebook community.”

MySpace, Facebook’s biggest competitor with over 78 million users have long offered their site across languages, including Spanish, French, German and Chinese.

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