Facebook in Spanish/German/French – now what?

Facebook has launched various community-based translations of their site. I’m currently seeing French, German and Spanish next to English (US) in a drop-down menu. The Spanish version launch received a lot of blog coverage but I almost missed the German and French launch. They’re also working on a traditional Chinese version (and more).

Community-based translation

The idea of community-based translations is not new but Facebook is trying to optimize the result with two twists:

  • A Translation Application allows for easy and contextual translation instead of an external strings file
  • A rating system bubbles up the “best” translations through community-based voting

I haven’t had the time to look at the quality in detail yet but started using Facebook in German today. I will switch to French in a few days.

I’ve tried to add the Translation Application a while ago without success. I just managed to add it now though.

Promoting the new language versions

One of the key questions when launching a new interface language is how to migrate users to it. Typically the user is given a choice via a preference. Facebook went one step further and force-redirected IPs from Spanish speaking countries to the Spanish version. I expected some backlash from users as changing the user experience without their consent is typically a recipe for trouble. I haven’t seen anything so far though.

One thing that doesn’t seem to work quite right: I tried setting my language to German in the logged out state. After logging in the interface language switches back to English. I have to change it again in my account settings.

Impact on local competition

I do expect to see higher Facebook adoption in non-English speaking countries as the interface language is an important factor in the user experience. Network effects, i.e. if your friends are already part of it, are more important than interface language for social network adoption though.

The Spanish launch is targeting the Latin America market where Hi5 is strong. Germany has a Facebook clone called StudiVZ that will now get stiffer competition. Asia has very strong local competitors and entering those markets will be very tricky.

And who will translate the Facebook applications?

Applications are trickier to translate as they’re built by third parties. This leads to a weird mix of languages on profile pages. The larger application companies could collaborate with Facebook and expose their strings for translation too. Smaller applications are probably out of luck for the foreseeable future.