Facebook launches Arabic version
|Friday, March 13,2009 09:02|
|By Ian Black, Middle East editor, and Jemima Kiss|
Facebook, based in Palo Alto, California, already has large numbers of users in the Arab world: in Egypt, where the site has 900,000 users, it has become a highly effective tool for political mobilisation, with mass demonstrations against the goverment organised through forums. The ability to use it in Arabic is likely to make it even more popular.
In Saudi Arabia the site has more than 250,000 users and in Lebanon more than 300,000.
Arabic, spoken by 250 million people – and Hebrew, spoken by 7 million – will now be available from a drop-down menu at the bottom of the homepage.
"It"s the first time Arabic speakers will be able to use Facebook in their own language," said Ghassan Haddad, the Facebook director of localisation. "It"s potentially huge."
Fifty million of the world"s 250 million Arabic speakers already use the internet, but Arabic only makes up 5% of global web content.
There are 700,000 active users – people aged over 18 who have returned to the site within the past month – in Israel.
Facebook asked users of a trial version to translate the site over the past month - a cost-effective scheme that has proved popular with users who translated the site into other languages.
After providing suggestions, users discussed and voted for the best translations. Facebook said 850 Arabic speakers and 870 Hebrew speakers had helped with the project.
Arabic and Hebrew, semitic languages that are both written from right to left, posed special challenges. For example, while the verb "write" in English is the same regardless of whether the person doing the writing is a male or female, different translations of "write" are required in both languages.
Facebook developers built a mechanism to detect the gender of the user and select the translation that matches it and used Modern Standard Arabic, which is used in the media and other formal and religious circles.
"The mix of characters between languages written in different directions makes it difficult at times for Web applications to determine the correct direction to display the language in," said the Lebanon-born Haddad.
"Design is another challenge, since a web page laid out from right to left looks like a mirror image of an equivalent English page. All components on the page must be changed for right-to-left languages including text alignment, ordering of tabs on pages, different fields on forms, labels, buttons and much more."
Facebook is now available in 40 languages with more than 60 others in development. The company said that 200,000 people had helped with translations.
Although Facebook has been accessible in English across the Middle East since it opened beyond the US college network in September 2006, its Arabic language version puts in in more direct competition with popular regional sites including Jeeran, Maktoob, ArabFriendz and Kalam Arab.