Analysis for The 2011 Web Globalization Report Card is now complete, and Facebook has emerged in first place, narrowly edging out Google.
Last year, Google and Facebook tied for first place, so I want to be clear that both sites are global leaders in their own right. And I also will confess that comparing a social networking platform with a company that supports more than 40 web and client products is a bit like comparing apples to oranges.
The goal of the Web Globalization Report Card is not only to highlight web globalization leaders (and their best practices) but also to shed light on the future of the Internet itself. From a multilingual perspective, Facebook has been quite innovative over the past year. And, more important, these innovations have broad implications for how millions of companies integrate social networks across their local web sites.
Facebook’s Social Plugins initiative has been enormously successful, with more than a quarter million web sites now supporting plugins such as the “Like” button. But what many have not noticed is that these plugins are also multilingual.
What this means is that if I insert a “Like” button on my home page (which I’ve done here), the language of this button changes based on the user’s language preference (assuming the user is logged in to Facebook).
Here is an example from the Byte Level Research site:
I used a German example to highlight a text expansion limitation. These plugins are not without rough edges, but it’s hard to argue with the direction in which they are taking the Internet. A multilingual social graph is being developed by the many millions of people clicking “Like” buttons. Privacy issues aside, it’s going to be very interesting to see where Facebook takes this platform as it matures.
Second, as I noted a month ago, Facebook recently began allowing users to modify their profiles to support multiple languages. This too is an important development. Perhaps this move was designed to increase advertising revenues. Or perhaps Facebook has a more noble goal of better serving multilingual users. Time will tell.
Facebook is far from perfect. I’ve been critical of its abuse of the globe icon (though Google has similarly struggled with global navigation). And Facebook will need to up its localization game if it’s going to win in a market like Russia, where VKontakte dominates.
That said, it’s hard to argue that Facebook, with 550 million web users (most of whom live outside the US), hasn’t done a lot of things right; it practically reinvented translation crowdsourcing, went from 2 to 74 languages in record time, and is clearly a company that all companies must follow closely in the years ahead.
The Report Card is now available.