Facebook considers non-English sites

Facebook, the world’s second-biggest social network, is working on translating its website into non-English languages as it prepares for an ambitious overseas expansion, according to people familiar with the company.

The move comes as Facebook is attempting to capitalise on the explosive growth that has led it to emerge as a leading internet property this year. Although rival MySpace remains bigger in the US, Facebook has overtaken MySpace as the most popular social networking site in other English-speaking countries, including Canada and, by some measures, the UK.

Last week, it emerged that Microsoft, the world’s biggest software company, was considering an investment in the site that could value Facebook at as much as $10bn – 10 times the amount that Yahoo, the internet portal, is understood to have offered to buy the site last year.

Facebook’s translation project comes as Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, attempts to broaden the site’s reach beyond its core audience of US users.

“Translation at some level is definitely on our radar. International growth is one of a few things that we are very focused on right now,” Facebook said. It declined to indicate what the timing was of a potential move into non-English language sites.

Facebook, based in California, recently announced it would open an office in London, and is thought to be nearing a decision on its choice for a UK public relations firm. Last month, a team of Facebook executives travelled to London to brief major news outlets on the site and conduct other business.

The number of unique Facebook users in the UK last week surpassed those of MySpace, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, the internet research group. Nielsen said more than 6.5m Britons – 20 per cent of all internet users – visited the Facebook site during August, compared with 6.4m visiting rival MySpace, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

According to comScore, an internet measurement group, MySpace had 61m unique visitors in August in the US, compared with Facebook’s 30m.

In Canada, Facebook had 12m in August versus MySpace’s 4. ComScore measured 9m Facebook visitors in the UK last month, versus MySpace’s 10m.

MySpace has already introduced non-English language sites, and has introduced local features for MySpace in many non-US markets.

Mike Murphy, vice-president of media sales at Facebook, said at a conference in New York last week that the company’s biggest challenge was “global expansion and being able to handle it”.

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