Facebook Goes Local in Middle East
Last month I reported on ArabCrunch that facebook launched Arabic beta, but as of today yeserday its officially launched along with Hebrew according to Ghassan Haddad, Director of Internationalization at facebook.
As with all other Facebook international languages translation, facebook Arabic and Hebrew was translated by the community of volunteers, with around 2.130 Arab translators while in Hebrew it is 2,103 , Arab translators submitted 29.294 Translations, while the Hebrew translators submitted 34,666 translations.
Both Arabic and Hebrew are Semitic languages and both are different than English thus have some challenges when used on the Web. Both languages begins in writing at the right-hand side of the page and ends on the left, so Facebook managed this challenge by making the design and the layout of the interface for both languages accommodate both languages’ special features.
Another challenge that facebook managed to tackle is that in Arabic and Hebrew, two words with the same meaning are used differently based on whether a person is male or female so they developed a feature they called “dynamic explosion”, which detects a person’s gender and selects the matching translation according to Haddad.
Arabic is the official language of more than 20 different countries including Palestine, Iraq, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but each country has a different dialect, in which not every person from a certain Arabic dialect understand all others, and many times a certain word means something else in another Arabic dialect. So facebook used the official Arabic called Al Fusha ( الفصحى) – the Arabic dialect of Quran – which is the standard language used in media, publishing and other formal and religious circles.
Testing the Arabic interface of facebook, revels that facebook and the community have done a great job, the translation is accurate and I would say better than the translation I see in many Google products! However there are more Phrases that needs to be translated to Arabic such as “Email Friend Finder” , according to facebook Translations app there are still 9.420 untranslated phrases to Arabic while for Hebrew the number is 586 (Hebrew speakers are around 5 million!)
This launch is a mile stone for Facebook and Arab Internet users especially in countries where Arabic is the only language people know such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, (Arabs are around 400 million people, and only around 35 million are internet users.)
But to my perception and from the perception of the people I know Facebook by far is the most popular social network in the Arab world, even before launching the Arabic version, and it seems facebook is doing ok in monetizing its Arabic user base, I always see ads on facebook using its DIY advertising application, in Jordan where I am based, the same case happened while logged in to facebook in my last visits to Egypt and Lebanon in the last 2 months.
Facebook is now available in 40 languages with over 60 more in development, but according to Haddad facebook “goal is to make Facebook available in every language across the world.”
OF all the other Arab social Networks, I find As7ab the most advanced, it has the nicest and easiest to use interface among its rivals ( excluding facebook), and shares many features of both facebook and MySpace such as profile customization using HTML, Networks, Groups, Events, Photo and Video sharing, Blogs, Gifts, and Celebrities (like facebook Fan page).
Maktoob which is the largest Arab home grown portal with around 14 million visitors per month and other Arabic social networks are challenged by Facebook move specially in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but as Ala’a A. Ibrahim a Zend Certified Enginer commented “believe me a lot of the users who are using Jeeran or As7ab or … etc, already have facebook accounts, but they think of it as another place to get dates.”
Though Maktoob is stronger in other features as a full regional Arabic portal like Yahoo, I think they need to integrate all their sub sites and features with As7ab and release an API for third party developers, in order to make As7ab more of a Social network for Arabs rather than one of those sites I have account at or dating website. Until this happen I see Facebook will remain the Social Network of Choice for Arabs.