Plurk Succeeds Where Twitter Stumbles in Asia

Plurk, a microblogging rival to Twitter, is winning over markets in Asia by offering service in local languages, something global leader Twitter has struggled to do even in European languages.

Plurk's user interface and microblog posts are available in a range of tongues, from English to the languages of some of the fastest growing countries in the world, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Hindi (India) and Chinese.

"When Plurk first launched, we had a translation system where the whole system was translated into 25 different languages in two weeks, and it's all done by our users," said Alvin Woon, a cofounder of Plurk, in an interview.

Plurk sends out an e-mail with a new string of English to volunteer translators and they localize it then send it back. Head translators lead teams of users, and they vote for the best language usage when they run into unusual English slang or a new phrase. Many translators come from the open-source community and are willing to work without pay, Woon said. They also have a strong desire to localize a microblogging site into their own language.

So far, Plurk is offered in 33 languages, but a total of 45 different languages are being translated as of this writing. The list of writing systems is as impressive for its range as it is for difficulty. Arabic, for one, is available on Plurk, as well as Hebrew, Greek, Japanese and both forms of Chinese characters, traditional and simplified. The more obscure offerings include Irish (Gaeilge) and Catalan for people in Spain.

Twitter is available in five languages currently: English, Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese. And although it's behind in the language race, the pace Twitter is adding new ones appears to have sped up. Twitter opened for Italian Dec. 10, just a few weeks after adding French on Nov. 19 and Spanish on Nov. 2, according to the company's blog.

Twitter did not return requests for comment on its language strategy.

One of the cofounders of Twitter, Biz Stone, told reporters in Japan last month that it's very hard to localize in Asian languages, which is the reason his company is focusing only on Japanese now.

Plurk hasn't found localization such a challenge. The Canadian company employs only nine people, including three cofounders, without a single translator, says Woon.

"I've been surprised at how many people want to translate Plurk into their own language," Woon said. Their only reward, aside from Plurk in their own language, is a virtual Rosetta Stone badge they can put on their Plurk user profile.

The importance of localization can be seen in parts of Asia where English is not commonly used. Plurk is already the number one microblogging site in Taiwan, according to market researcher InsightXplorer, and is popular in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and Malaysia, because people are able to use local languages.

Twitter continues to dominate markets in Asia where English is common. The microblogging service ranks first in Hong Kong and Singapore, with Plurk trailing in both places, according to data provided by Internet researcher Hitwise.

Globally, Plurk remains far behind Twitter, according to data ranking Web sites by traffic from Alexa.com. Twitter is number 14 globally, behind giants such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo. Plurk comes in at 1,073 on the list.

Plurk's largest audience is in Taiwan, according to Internet research firm Alexa.com, followed by Indonesia and the U.S. Twitter's main audience is from the U.S., followed by India, Germany and the U.K.

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