(AFP) – Feb 7, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) — Facebook on Thursday unveiled a Spanish version of its hot social-networking website and promised French and German language editions by spring.
A software application made freely available lets people opt for Spanish instructions, alerts, news feeds and other information provided by Facebook as part of the user interface.
"The beauty of the system is that it can extend to every language possible," Facebook vice president of strategy and operations Matt Cohler told AFP.
Facebook users have always been able to post profiles, messages or other content in their native languages, but the framework for the website was only in English.
The Spanish version of Facebook is available in countries where that is the native language.
French and German versions of the website are being tested in "private beta" modes and should be rolled out by the end of March, according to Cohler.
"We are really excited," Cohler said. "We are starting to see the results and they're great ... the translations are getting done really quickly and accurately."
Facebook says 1.4 million of its 64 million users are in France and it hopes a French version of the website will cause that number to multiply.
Leading social-networking website MySpace launched a Spanish version nearly a year ago and is localized to languages in 25 territories. A version of MySpace tailored for India is in a public test phase.
Fox-owned MySpace reports that its online community has 110 million active users.
California-based Facebook put the Spanish translation application in its free software gallery so users can add it to their accounts as they wish and refine the program if they have the skills.
Facebook users can critique each others translations, resulting in a communal effort to improve the software and build an accurate dictionary of terms in Spanish.
"We let users participate in translation; it is the same approach as wiki driven and open source," Cohler said, referring to web pages that people are free to modify and public software people can modify.
"We are doing it this way because we will get a more meaningful application of our user interface than if we did some top-down implementation of a translation service provider."
Facebook users have amassed more than 300,000 words and tenses in the Spanish translation application.
Cohler stressed that Facebook is striving to maintain a single website that people can customize to different languages.
"What we don't intend to do is launch different sites for different countries," Cohler said. "We think we have a universal product. On the other hand, we believe in personalization."
Facebook had approximately nine million users when it shifted from exclusive to open membership in September of 2006.
Its rapid growth is credited in part to letting users freely customize profile pages with mini software applications.
MySpace on Tuesday adopted the same tactic, opening its platform so software developers can craft hip, entertaining, or helpful programs for profile pages. MySpace plans to unveil a free software application gallery next month.
"MySpace has stepped up," Clayton Stark, vice president of engineering at Internet start-up Flock, told AFP while demonstrating an application tailored for MySpace. "I'm impressed."
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