Twitter announced via its blog that it is adding support for French, Italian, German and Spanish to the languages supported by its interface. Until now the system has only been available in English and Japanese. In its blog post it describes these languages as “Commonly referred to using the acronym FIGS and are often the starting point for services like Twitter when its time for more language support”. The languages will be added via a crowdsourcing interface.
There are some issues with this announcement. Firstly, the fact that Twitter has chosen to go for “FIGS” in other words French, Italian, German and Spanish is a habit which is very typical of English speaking companies because they assume they must be the most important languages. They may be, but they may also not be. What Twitter should have done (maybe they have and they don’t want to say) is checked what languages their users are working in and followed that – always play to your strengths. There’s a good chance they should have been looking at languages like Korean, Russian and Arabic – rather than FIGS. Another factor to take into account is that the FIGS languages use the same alphabet as English so users will, and have been, able to interpret what it’s all about more easily than speakers of Russian, Korean or Arabic.
The second issue is they’re using crowdsourcing ‘because they have a small team’. The Twitter interface is not large in localisation terms and it would have consumed less of their resources to have used traditional localisation for this small number of languages. It only makes sense to use crowdsourcing if they’re planning to localise in a very large number of languages. Dear Twitter, a few person team on a project like this is HUGE for most people not small!
Equally, they’re not even looking at the major language issues which Twitter faces such as people who wish to Tweet in multiple languages. Currently, some are opting to Tweet in two accounts to use two languages to avoid losing followers. Twitter should add more sophistication to this side of their system.