Forgetting English (literally)

I’m working on the Web Globalization Report Card, and this, plus my fascination with Facebook, inspired me to check out my Forgetting English page in several different languages.

Here it is in Spanish…

And Chinese…

And, my favorite, “pirate English”…

Thanks largely to volunteer translators, Facebook has localized from one to 70 languages in two years. (Personally, I think we need more of the goofy ones — I’d so much rather “Adjust me riggins” than “Change settings” or change the “Settins o’ me piracy” than my “Privacy Settings.” I’m thinking of volunteering to do “Snarky English” myself.)

If you’re a translator, there’s a link on Facebook (on the language setting page) where you can find out more. And if you’re interested in more where this came from, check out our new report, coming in 2010.

Taking a Facebreak

As Katie Hafner writes in the NY Times, a number of people are taking a break from Facebook (or trying to).

Call it a Facebreak.

Facebook is all about scale.

Hundreds of millions of users.

And 10 billion minutes spent on Facebook each day.

But for us Facebook users, time does not scale.

Every minute we spend on Facebook is one minute less we spend reading a book, watching TV, sleeping, working.

It used to be that the Internet was all about saving time.

Amazon freed us from driving to the mall.

Online bill pay freed us from writing checks and searching for stamps.

And then along came Facebook and all those minutes saved were quickly reallocated.

I’m exaggerating, of course.

But I think “free” online applications in the years ahead are going to be viewed as not quite so free as in years past.

Time is money, after all. And we only have so much of it to spend.

Facebook: From 1 to 100 languages in two years

It was just over a year ago that Facebook started localizing itself for the world.

As I noted then, the company utilized crowdsourcing to spur its translation efforts. And though volunteers aren’t the only people translating content, a year later, Facebook has done an impressive job of going global.

Om Malik recently reported some key stats from Facebook’s global expansion efforts. Among them:

  • Facebook is available in 43 languages and is in the process of being translated into another 60 languages.
  • 40 percent of Facebook users are not using English.
  • 25,000 volunteers helped translate Facebook into Turkish last year, and there are now 9 million Turkish-language users signed up for Facebook.


Even though only 43 languages are available now, if you add the Facebook Translations application (which i really recommend doing if you’re into this sort of thing), you’ll see the other 60 languages in the pipeline — many of which look pretty much good to go.


Here’s what the Translations pull-down menu looks like:


So many languages my computer is lacking for fonts.

It’s a very safe bet to say that Facebook will support more than 100 languages a year from now.

Will Facebook become the world’s largest translation platform?

Techcrunch reports from Facebook’s developer conference today in which company announced that it would open its “crowdsourcing” translation platform to its legion of application developers. Here’s the press release excerpt:

As a result of the worldwide success of Facebook’s translation system, the company has opened up the Translation Application to any developer using Facebook Platform. Beginning today, any Facebook developer can make their application available in any of the 20 languages that are currently available on Facebook, with 69 more coming soon.

Developers can now access the Translation Application to either translate their applications themselves, or open up translation of their application to Facebook users around the world, who will work together to define it in their native languages.

Developers are naturally very excited about this development because they can tap into the same group of enthusiastic volunteers who are currently translating Facebook’s interface into different languages. Or, developers can pay translators or agencies to do the translation.

Facebook knows that part of the value of its platform are the third-party applications. As I mentioned a few days ago, I was concerned that so many of Apple’s iPhone apps are currently in English only. And it’s safe to say that Apple is nowhere close to launching anything similar to what Facebook is now doing.

As Facebook goes global with its platform, it wants all of its 400,000 developers (more than half of which live outside of the US) to come along as well. Opening up the translation platform is a win-win for everyone.

And we could see Facebook’s translation platform become a force onto itself.

It will be interesting to see what role translation agencies and freelance translators will play. I see a nice opportunity, because some of these app developers will want to pay a premium to have professional translators involved.

PS: Techcrunch also shares some data on Facebook’s global traffic growth — a sign that this translation program is perfectly timed.

Facebook hits German competitors

StudiVZ in Poland

If you’ve read this blog recently, you are aware of John’s reports on Facebook’s efforts to translate its Website into German and other European languages. I am a keen observer of the “kraut-sourcing” efforts. However, in Germany Facebook faces an entrenched competitor: “StudiVZ”.

StudiVZ is a social networking platform, very similar to Facebook. In contrast to Facebook, the positioning and the target group is extremely focused (for example, during signup you have to explicitly provide your high school or university). There are other affiliated networks like “SchülerVZ” specifically targeting younger people and pupils (until they are “old enough” to join StudiVZ).

In the past StudiVZ has tried to expand into other countries, too, and translated the Website into French, Spanish, Italian and Polish. But despite its efforts and except for Poland, the results were poor: the number of users were well below expectations. This led to a reorganisation of the staff, e.g. reduced teams which operate independently in each country. And now StudiVZ announced that it will “hibernate” its international expansion and instead it will focus its efforts in a renewed and improved software architecture.

For me this a clear move to counter Facebook’s advance in Europe, and especially Germany. Let’s see how the opponents stack up:

  • Facebook has an estimated user base of 60 million users worldwide and app. 600.000 in Germany. StudiVZ has app. 4,8 million users and SchülerVZ app. 2,7 millions. Numbers are currently increasing sharply. Facebook 0 : StudiVZ 1
  • StudiVZ is extremely focused in marketing its platform to students and teenagers. Therefore the numbers above show a deep market penetration in this growing group. Facebook 0 : StudiVZ 2
  • Facebook has a lot of venture capital backing, while StudiVZ has the backing of only the German publishing group Holzbrinck. Facebook 1 : StudiVZ 2
  • StudiVZ is trailing Facebook in technology and needs to modernize its software architecture. Right now StudiVZ is a “closed shop” and does not yet allow independent developers in its ecological niche. And the renewed technology might take some time to completely roll out. Facebook 2 : StudiVZ 2
  • StudiVZ has translated its Website into several languages and can exploit this language base in the future. Facebook has a very large and expanding global user base. Shortly they will have the same language capabilities. Facebook 3 : StudiVZ 3.

Right now I cannot see a clear winner here in Germany, but I see some small advantages for Facebook. But winning over the users from StudiVZ will be difficult and will consume time and money. Maybe a takeover would do the trick.

Moreover, the global reach of users is crucial for potential partners, e.g. for content providers or technological partners. I am referring here to the rumours of a Nokia+Facebook deal. I reckon the combination of mobile Web and global social networking will be one of the most interesting developments in the near future.

But don’t forget Orkut and Android, Google’s social platform and mobile technology… Ah, what interesting times we live in!