Facebook Goes After Spanish-Speaking Crowd

The battle for the hearts and minds of social networkers goes on.

Facebook fired the latest shot Thursday with the launch of a Spanish-language version of its site. It plans to launch French and German versions by April.

Chief rival MySpace, which is much larger than Facebook, already is available in 13 languages, including Spanish, French, German, Japanese and Italian. An Indian version is currently in the public beta test phase.

Facebook’s move toward foreign-language sites is a good strategy, according to Elroy Jopling, a research director at Gartner.

Facebook “has regional competitors all over the place, and being only in English was definitely an impediment,” he told TechNewsWorld.

English Isn’t Enough?

English-only isn’t good enough, unless stagnation is the goal.

The U.S. social networking market is mature, which means growth is going to level off to some extent, although Facebook grew year over year by 80 percent, from 19 million visitors in January 2007 to 33.9 million in January 2008, Andrew Lipsman, senior analyst at ComScore, told TechNewsWorld.

MySpace had 68.6 million visitors in January, which was 12 percent up from the previous January — but then it “is at a more mature part of the growth curve,” he added.

The real growth will be overseas, because “social networking is still at an earlier stage of the growth curve worldwide and there’s lots of room for growth.” Lipsman observed.

Market Specialization Required

Markets differ by region. For example, Facebook had “strong growth across markets internationally” while MySpace scored only in “some markets,” noted Lipsman. Google’s Orkut, which is a relatively small player in the U.S., “dominates in Brazil and India,” according to Lipsman.

While Friendster has one of the smallest audiences in the U.S., with about two million visitors, it’s “huge” in the Asia-Pacific, Lipsman said.

So, looking abroad would be wise.

Words Are Not Enough

About 1,500 Spanish-speaking Facebook visitors used a widget from the company to translate its language and applications into Spanish, and Facebook is going to adopt the same approach to create its French- and German-language sites.

However, just porting sites into different languages will not be enough: “Our sites are going to have to accommodate local cultures and communities overseas, and to battle folks who are already entrenched out there,” Angela Gyetzan, vice president of marketing and content at Revver, an ad-supported video-sharing service, told TechNewsWorld.

For example, “Cyworld is absolutely huge in Korea, and they’ve been making some forays into the U.S.,” she pointed out.

“It’s one thing to translate the site into Spanish,” said Gartner’s Jopling, “but other countries have their own culture, and how do you incorporate that into the site? To really grasp an international market, first [sites] have to be in more than English, and then they have to be different in more than just language.”

No kidding: The Chevy Nova, for example, gained no traction in the Spanish-speaking community, because “no va” means “doesn’t go” in Spanish — a lesson that cost General Motors dearly.

Duking It Out

In their ongoing battle for supremacy, Facebook and MySpace have lifted a number of ideas from each other.

The porting to new languages is one.

Another is opening up the site to third-party developers. Facebook did that back in May of last year, encouraging other companies to sell products and create software for use on its site.

On February 5, MySpace premiered its own Developer Platform Site, which will do the same thing. The site has open standards for building, testing and deploying widgets, which are mini-applications, for MySpace. Widgets developed there will be available in March.

New Directions

Meanwhile, Facebook has begun moving in other new directions.

In January, it released its JavaScript client library, which lets developers build and host Facebook applications on their own Web sites.

Also, it has just launched Facebook for Mobile Operators, a platform that will make it work better on portable devices. Vodafone has begun using it for customers in the UK and Germany, and will expand the service to Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal, according to reports.

Who’s going to win the social networking platform wars? Too early to tell — but watch for more fireworks.

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