Adding Spanish to Twitter interface languages immediately boosts signups in Spanish countries by 50%

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Twitter has a post here from two days ago on two events that caused a spike in international traffic on Twitter: the addition of Spanish to its list of interface languages, which caused a 50% spike in growth from Spanish countries, and the earthquake in Chile which caused a 1200% spike in signups as people moved to Twitter as a means to exchange information.

What's interesting about this is how providing the interface in a language like Spanish still manages to cause a spike in traffic even though the Twitter interface really is about as simple as a site can get: a user can simply sign up and start writing messages of 140 characters in any language without having to navigate through much English at all. A few reasons for this could be:

Having an interface in one's L1 just makes a site seem that much more real. When using an L1 people will tend to skim over a lot of content in a short time, picking out vital bits of information while doing so. Switch to an L2 though and it often becomes a grueling, one-sentence-at-a-time task that quickly tires a person out even if there isn't that much to read. It may seem a bit ridiculous for a user to be driven away by a few lines of text, but then again it's always the responsibility of a site to sell itself to users, not the other way around.

Tricky bits of text that put off potential users for a while. Potential users are often put off from signing up or really using a site due to a combination of not really feeling a strong need for it plus a tricky bit of text here or there that can come across as a bit intimidating. Let's imagine for a moment a world where Twitter is only available in German, and your average English speaker knows some. All right, I just signed up for Twitter and everything's looking good, and my basic German allows me to navigate this section quite easily.

Name, Benutzername, Sprache, all good. But then I come across some parts that look like this:

Hm, this is a bit more intimidating than the previous example. Google Translate usually does a pretty good job but sometimes it messes up in a crucial area and password protection is pretty important, and ... well, I guess I'm not that interested in this site yet anyway, *closes tab and goes back to comfortable site in one's mother tongue*

And one more reason:

Media attention at the launch of a new language version. Whenever a new language in Twitter is released it's always accompanied by a few dozen articles on the announcement. Those that haven't signed up yet say "Oh yeah, Twitter" and check it out in their L1, everything's comfortable and so why not sign up now? Thus a spike in new signups.

The most important lesson to take home from this is this: when students study English as a subject in school they often do a fairly good job even with some fairly difficult texts, but this is obligatory; once they are home and relaxing there is no reason for a site to assume that it can adopt the same approach with those that are more comfortable in their L1. IOW, 1 billion or so students of English does not = 1 billion people that feel like using it all the time.

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