For most of its history, Facebook has tried to build a single product that works for everyone in the world. The only localization it offered was the text on the site, and even that was a one-size-fits-all product — its Translation tool allowed it to quickly launch in new languages using feedback from users.
But now, we’re seeing more signs of Facebook trying to customize its products for specific locations, at least for a few major markets where it wants to grow. Some of the latest examples are a new game-style Facebook site tour for new Japanese users, and a small engineering expansion in South Korea. We’ll look at these and more, below.
Certain Countries Get Special Attention
The stage has already been set for product localization. Company chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in October that four countries had become targets for new growth over the past year: South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. Aside from all being located at least partly in Asia, these four companies are also notable because they all have well-established local social networking competitors: Vkontakte in Russia, Cyworld in Korea, Mixi in Japan and Tencent among others in China. More generally, all of these countries have unique languages, cultures, and in some cases government regulations that have historically hindered outside competitors.
Out of those four, Facebook is blocked in China — the company has hinted that it might work with the government in order to be allowed in, but that hasn’t happened yet. So here’s a look at what’s happening with Facebook in the other three locations. All data is from our Global Monitor report, part of our Inside Facebook Gold subscription service. Note for subscribers: We’ll be coming out with a detailed new monthly report analyzing worldwide Facebook traffic and trends, with the first one arriving in early December.
Facebook’s first foreign engineering office opened in Tokyo, Japan, this past year. So far, it has introduced products like a customized interface for mobile users, and an in-house app designed to help users with job searches. That app, the first Facebook has made for a local market, is most interesting for its cultural focus — it is intended as a way for users to make connections in the traditionally rigid Japanese job market.
It also introduced a way to syndicate Facebook content to Mixi accounts.
The most recent example of Japanese localization is from a couple weeks ago, when Facebook added a new site tour that prompts users to take a set of four “missions.” The missions are just a series of screenshots and text explaining how people can fill out their profiles, and include tips aimed at Japanese users (like talking about the value of using real-world names). This sort of site tour page doesn’t currently exist in other languages that we know of, which is reflected in the Japanese page’s generic Facebook URL.
Japan’s growth began picking up around the middle of 2009, after the first translated version of the site became available. Since then, it has lagged much of the rest of Asia in the world. But it’s continued to steadily climb, and had its highest numbers yet in October, with 1.69 million monthly active users and 262,000 new ones.
Facebook isn’t saying much about what it’s doing in the country. The two previous postings about contract sales engineering positions are no longer on the Careers page, but there’s a new posting for a full-time sales engineering position. Besides the job listings, the most prominent thing the company has done was launch a dedicated page about the country.
We’ve heard it could be expanding its local engineering operations beyond sales, but a spokesperson’s response seems to shoot that down. “We are currently only hiring for jobs that are posted on the Careers page, and don’t have much more to say on rumors and speculation.” The expansion, in whatever form it might be taking, has not yet resulted in any Korea-focused Facebook products.
Yet, after a first year or so of slow growth, the country’s Facebook base has quadrupled since April, passing Japan to reach 267,000 new users and 1.73 million total MAU by October. Facebook, as Zuckerberg suggested, has even bigger ambitions.
The last difficult-but-winnable country on the list is Russia, where the social network faces a number of homegrown rivals. Facebook shares an investor, Digital Sky Technologies, with a few of these including Vkontakte. So far, the company has done a couple 0.facebook.com mobile integration deals so mobile users with some local carriers can get free access to the site, for example. But the ’0′ deals aren’t particularly special, since the company has done dozens of those deals around the world.
Facebook started making Russia-specific moves a few weeks ago, when leading Russian search engine company Yandex began tightly integrating Facebook content in a special deal similar to what Facebook is doing with Microsoft’s Bing search engine (but not with Google).
Russia, like the previous two countries, is seeing a distinct growth surge. It grew by 548,000 last month to reach 2.132 million MAU — a striking increase given its slower history, and local competition.
What the Future Holds
These examples are new and mostly basic, but we expect the localization efforts to increase as Facebook looks to strengthen its market position around the world. Beyond more guides and other content, it will likely try to use its products to benefit key local partners , as with the case with Yandex, or to help solve relevant market problems, as is the case with the Japan job search app.
Stay tuned for more detailed coverage of Facebook around the world in our Inside Facebook Gold data and analysis service.