Strategic Importance of Software Localization: Angry Birds, Facebook and MySpace

Usually expanding the market is considered as the main reason for localizing software to new languages. Here we represent two well-known cases of using localization to gain strategic advantage in several ways. In these cases software is localized to smaller language markets where there is less competition. This enables faster growth which eventually helps in winning the major language markets.

Case 1: Facebook vs. MySpace

Based on the graph below in April 2008 MySpace apparently had no reason to worry about Facebook. After all, MySpace was growing and still had a huge lead although Facebook was growing somewhat faster than MySpace. MySpace was still about twice as big as Facebook – in US!

In reality MySpace had already lost the game. Facebook beat MySpace in international markets. In the graph below you can see the worldwide visitor numbers. Facebook had developed a more effective approach to localizing its software than MySpace. It was able to leverage its own users to localize the software to new languages faster than MySpace. MySpace was localizing its own software too but with traditional methods and at a much slower pace. Facebook was translated to French in less than 24 hours by its own users. MySpace could not match that speed. It lost first the the minor language markets and then also the major language markets.

Please note that based on the user numbers in US it seems that Facebook’s product was not essentially better than MySpace’s. At least MySpace was still growing in US and not losing its users to Facebook in large scale. Facebook conquered first the markets with less competition and only after that became dominant also in US.

Case 2: Angry Birds vs. other game applications for smartphones

A few years later Angry Birds used the same strategy to conquer smartphone game market. First it achieved good positions in iPhone app stores of smaller countries such as Finland (home country of Angry Birds and also Multilizer!), Czech, Sweden and Denmark. The game sold extremely well when it had reached top positions in the app stores of small countries. This convinced Apple to promote Angry Birds as its ”game of the week”. Only then the sales really took off and Angry Birds became a global brand.

These two cases show the strategic value of software localization. It’s not only about increasing the market but also about bypassing your competition. Typically software is published first in major languages what means more competition in them and less competition in minor languages.

Angry Birds is a great game but how many other great games have we missed because Apple was not convinced to promote them? For Angry Birds localization and success in smaller markets were the keys in building the necessary credibility to become big. For Facebook, international markets provided the main bulk of the growth, while MySpace was too slow to respond and was out-grown.

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