Facebook: Available in How Many Languages?

I’m sure we’re all very familiar with the vaunted Facebook crowdsourcing translation model by now. It’s been central to Facebook’s phenomenal international growth, and it’s a fantastic innovation even subject to a U.S. patent application. Anyone who supports the global sharing of information can only but admire what Facebook have done, meself included!

But I’m stuck here. Maybe you can help me?

As a user experience (UX) professional, I can see how allowing users to translate their own content can be part of a compelling engagement strategy, and within that context I would have thought the entire user experience should be in the user’s language, not just part of it.

So, then, why is it that when we constantly read that Facebook is available in 65, 70, 80, whatever number of languages, we can find that the Facebook help is available in less than 10? Here is what Irish language (Gaeilge) users see under Help:

Irish language Facebook help screen showing seven languages have translated help.

Is it because:

a) The Facebook crowdsourcing translation tool doesn’t allow the help strings to be translated?

b) Facebook users don’t want to translate help because they don’t like or need it, or doing so just ain’t cool (or easy) anyway?


c) There’s a whole bunch of places out there populated by people way way smarter than others and they don’t need help in their own language?

As a localization professional working according to budget, I was sometimes faced with the prospect of having to preside over a localization plan where help or doc not included and left in English (actually, Facebook doesn’t seem to allow users who switch their language to one where no help translation is available an option to read help in English instead). I wondered: if this approach was acceptable then why the help was written in English in the first place?

For me, partial localization is fine if the market and user experience accepts it, of course, though it’s clear that for some cultures doing so is a negative experience.

But what’s going on with community translation of user assistance like help?

Answers to the organizers of the next localization or UX conference, anywhere, please.

Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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