Monday, March 23, 2009

Facebook introduces its Arabic interface

It has been expected for some time now, but the introduction of Facebook’s Arabic interface was big news when the service started a couple of weeks ago.

Facebook had been serving millions of Arabs, albeit in English or other languages. The numbers of users in the region was impressive, and now with Arabic available, Facebook is set to grow exponentially. Already, several of my relatives and friends, who are not fluent English speakers, have sent me friendship invitations and I expect that there’s a ‘viral explosion’ happening now among Arabs hungry for Facebook.

Previously, these users were cut out of the the real action, as they were using other Arabized networks., for example, is possibly better than Facebook as far as features are concerned, but it’s not as widespread, and does not include as many English-speaking Arabs.

I’ve been contacted by a couple of regional newspapers to comment on what this means to existing Arab social networks, like or

The way I see it is that Facebook was already big, and shall now get bigger, while regional social networks were smaller, but served more specialized requirements. For example, Jeeran has a large community of Arab bloggers, video and photo sharing users and so on. Simply, offering them a social networking function just complements the existing services within that community. Maktoob’s social network, As7ab Maktoob, is similar in that respect. Neither sites were etched into the minds of Arabs as ‘pure social networking’ services, like Facebook is widely known to be.

In any case, Internet traffic in the Arab World has so much room to grow, that everyone will benefit. For advertisers, it just means there are now more options.

On another note, a Hebrew service was also launched with Arabic. This may seem ironic or even political, but the reality is that Facebook is rolling out right-to-left languages and it so happens Arabic and Hebrew share that characteristic. This technicality has been “exceptionally challenging,” according to a spokesperson from Facebook mainly because some of the characters, mainly punctuation marks and numbers, are the same as those used in left-to-right languages, making it difficult for Web applications to determine the direction in which to display the language.

Facebook’s announcement of Arabic and Hebrew is to be followed by 60 other languages. Facebook is also calling on its community of more than 175 million users to help make the service available in every language across the world through its “Translations application”.

Check it out. Many things will come out of all this mutli-lingual social networking activity. Hopefully, greater understanding and tolerance will be the main gain.


At 10:15 PM , Anonymous Timothy Bataillie said...

Hi Zeid,

I am a bit surprised that you say that Netlog is possibly better but not as wide spread as Facebook.

This may be true on a global scale, but not in Europe or Middle-East. We are bigger than Facebook in the whole of Middle-East region...

Wish you all the best,
Timothy Bataillie
Business Development Manager Netlog MENA

At 12:27 AM , Blogger Zeid Nasser said...

Hello Timothy!

Thanks for the comment. It's great to get a response from Netlog regarding this post!

Netlog does have strong numbers in some countries, like Saudi Arabia, but in other Arab markets Facebook seems to be more popular; even before the Facebook Arabic Interface was introduced.

But, since you've got the numbers, maybe you would like to share them with this blog's visitors :)



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