Can Facebook Help Translate the Web?

A few days ago, Facebook quietly announced that its crowd-sourced translation tools, which have enabled Facebook to be translated into over 70 languages entirely by users, have been added to Facebook Connect. Over the last year, many developers have been using Facebook’s translation service to enable users of their apps to do the same. Now, any website owner can let users translate any content on their site using Facebook’s interface and moderation tools. Does this mean we’ll see Facebook becoming an increasingly popular translation layer for Connect-enabled websites?

First, it’s important to take note of just how important Facebook’s translation service has been for its own growth. Since launching its crowd-sourcing tools, which enable users to translate any phrase on the site and then vote on the best translations, in early 2008, Facebook has penetrated many markets on every continent. We continue to follow Facebook’s international growth in great detail with our monthly Global Monitor newsletter. In some cases, like French or Spanish, users were said to have translated the entire site in under 24 hours.

While we don’t know how many people are using Facebook in each translation, we do know the non-English-speaking regions where Facebook has grown the most. Users in these regions – many in Europe and South America – are likely to be the ones to use a Facebook Connect translations service the most.

However, there are some key product-level questions that must be answered for Facebook Connect’s translations feature to grow. First, any crowd-sourced translations service of course depends on having a passionate community. Only sites with fervid international audiences will see pickup. Second, users will have to figure out how to use all of the features of Facebook’s translations service while still inside the website – which may or may not be hard to learn. Today, most Internet translation is done by outsourced translation companies, or on the fly by consumers using machine translation services like Google Translate.

For now, however, Facebook is actually stressing simpler core benefits to implementing Facebook Connect: 1) more traffic through shared content, 2) increased engagement through social context, 3) improved registration conversion rates. If sites started using Facebook Connect to more easily crowd-source translation to their users as well, that would clearly strengthen Connect’s value proposition to those webmasters even more – and it would be another case in which Facebook users wouldn’t need Google to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”