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1 June 2011

A new Facebook Use Case

Recently, while looking through my Facebook feed, I realized there is a use case that isn't currently cared for by the site. Its something I had noticed in the past, but it never occurred to me that the site could actually resolve the problem for me (at least mostly resolve it).
As a result of 9 trips to France in an 18 month period that ended, coincidentally 5 years ago this week, I have a lot of former French coworkers who are my friends on Facebook. That same project also saw me make many friends who spoke Arabic and a few who speak Hindi (or other languages from the Indian sub-continent).
As my travels in France left me there, often with no other people who speak English as a first (or only) language, I learned what I called 'Menu French', which is just enough French to not starve when I head to a restaurant. But that little bit of French has, over the intervening half-decade, faded with disuse.
Enter my recent review of my Facebook news feed where I realized there was a post from one of my French friends that I could almost, but not quite, understand. Because I know my friends well, I know that they have French set as their default language in Facebook, even though they all know English. I know that I was not the intended audience for whatever it was they were trying to say, as it was in French, but I wanted to know what they were saying as I like knowing what is going on with them in their lives.
Sure, I could highlight the text, right click on it and then ask Google Chrome to translate it for me, but that's a pain. Given that Facebook knows their language, knows mine (English), and that they already have a UI element that could be repurposed for it, this would be an extremely easy thing for them to offer to auto-translate for me. Imagine another icon, just below the 'X' used to hide a post, that only appears when the text in a status update is in a different language than my default language. How awesome would that be?
Yes, I know, automated translation utilities suck. I get that, but frankly, I don't care. If the translation isn't perfect, that's fine as all I really want to know is the meaning (and maybe a small chuckle at how bad the literal translation actually is). What I want to know is what is happening with my friends. I don't need a legally binding translation, just enough of a help to keep up with their lives.
The technology exists. The is a known languages section in your profile that could act as a cue to Facebook that you might be posting in languages unknown to all of your friends. Why have they not stepped up to add this functionality?

Truth be told, its likely an edge scenario. I get that; I have to help business users prioritize edge cases all the time. Yet, its an edge case that can't by any means be unique, especially given the rapid rise in our world's population and the ability to connect with others in this world. These are two trends that will do nothing but continue to increase, so its is not that this is an area that will disappear with time. I am simply surprised that Facebook hasn't noticed it yet and implemented a resolution for the problem. It just seems right up their alley.

What about you? Could you use autotranslation, even if it is far from perfect, inside of your social networks? What other use cases is Facebook missing (besides useful privacy controls; I think that one has been beaten to death)?