The November 1st issue of the Wall Street Journal has an interesting article regarding Netlog.com (formerly Facebox). The article is titled, "How Netlog Leaps Language Barriers".
The article focuses on the diversity challenges that social networking sites have in Europe with Europeans speaking more than a dozen languages. Netlog appears to have stepped up to the cultural diversity challenge and is doing so at a much lower investment cost than its rivals. Netlog's secret weapons: the use of open source tools (apparently the site runs on PHP, MySQL, Ajax, etc.) as well as an army of foreign students at a nearby Belgian university.
By relying on some clever technology and a ready supply of foreign students at a nearby university, Netlog has become a veritable Tower of Babel. It counts 28 million members and has versions in 13 different languages, including French, German and Italian, as well less common tongues like Romanian and Norwegian. Polish and Russian versions are nearly finished and another dozen languages, including Catalan, Estonian and Arabic, are on the way.
That is a notable achievement, because outside of North America, many Internet start-ups are hemmed in by linguistic barriers that limit their ability to attract users and generate revenue.
I applaud Netlog's forward-thinking to build from the ground-up a multi-language content/social management system. More interesting is that while Netlog's developers understood what was at stake, the much larger U.S. social networking sites have been hampered by not thinking on more global terms.