With over 750 million accounts, Facebook users span nearly every country in the world -and it has been ranked as the 7th most populated country in the world. It was recently valued at 65,000 million US$. Not bad for a company that lets people chat and share pictures at its basic level, and that connects at its highest.
It sucess has brought shadows to other online companies such as Yahoo!, which had to fire its MD Carol Bartz by phone, as the company struggles to keep up with other online giants.
Facebook faces a common “problem” many large countries do: multilinguism (if you consider that a problem) or rather the fact that it holds communities which do not interact with each other as there is a language barrier (that is a problem in the real world and in the digital world).
However, according to an Inside Facebook post on 2nd September, the social media site has started to experiment with an automated translation service to help bridge the communication gap between its communities. Facebook already crowdsourced the translation of its site to several languages, connecting millions of people to each other around the world in new and sometimes unexpected ways.
The new “Translate” button sits next to the “Like” button and apparently does a good job of translating not only standard words but also slang phrases. No details about the engine or technology behind the tool have been disclosed, although it is likely the company, giving its “crowdsource” philosophy, may have adopted open-source technologies rather than choosing to develop one from scratch.
The picture below (courtesy of Inside Facebook) shows a translation of the phrase, “Totally cool” from Hebrew to English.
As it happens with other life translation services, if the post has been translated, the button changes its status to “Original” and thus users can see the source text that was originally entered.
This machine translation functionality will undoubtedly be particularly useful for multinational organizations. Their Facebook pages receive comments from all over the world, which are of course in different languages. Gathering this wealth of real-life user feedback is the realm of some sentiment analysis firms. Twitter and blogs are open-web resources for commercial firms to know what customers think and how they react to their products, services and events. However, Facebook is a close-web environment which cannot be crawled, nor data mined so easily. Therefore, the only solution has been for people to cut and paste the comments into a free web translation service like Firefox’s imtranslator or for the most sophisticated or corporate user which requires a private translation process build your own. Facebook’s embedded machine translation feature would then be a timesaver not just for users, but also for commercial applications needing to know close-web or community-based opinions. Facebook’s translation currently only supports Spanish, French, Hebrew, Chinese, and English.
The feature is currently only available on Facebook Pages and not on profiles or apps. Nevertheless, if it works as Facebook plans, we can expect to see it rolled out for the entire site in the near future.