Facebook increases its appeal in India with local language support for feature phone app

Facebook has kicked its efforts in India up a notch with the introduction of support for eight local languages to its feature phone app, in a move to boost its appeal with new demographics in the country’s 1.2 billion population.

The languages — Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi, Bengali and Marathi — have been added to the ‘Facebook for Every Phone mobile application’, which will also support Hindi, Malay and Vietnamese.

Support for the new languages will be introduced in a phase rollout over the coming few weeks, according to The Times of India, which includes an explanation of the introduction from Facebook Country Growth Manager Kevin D’Souza:

With over 50 million people in India on Facebook, we want to make sure that everyone has a great Facebook mobile experience regardless of the device that they choose to use.

Launched last year, the application is designed for non-smartphone users and it supports more 3,600 Java-enabled mobile phones; which is important in India as feature phones accounted for 94 percent of all mobile devices shipments during 2011.

The languages are already among the many supported by Facebook.com, however support via mobile will enable those without PCs to sign-up and help boost the activity of mobile users without regular fixed-Internet access.

While smartphone ownership is growing in India and English fluency is high, the move is aimed at pushing use of Facebook beyond its growing user base.

The move comes as fellow social networks Twitter and Google+ have also made concerted efforts to increase their value in India.

Twitter recently added new languages and expanded its trending topics to cover 5 more Indian cities in a bid to make its platform a more useful news platform. Equally in India, Google+ agreed a deal to give Indian users free access through local a local WiFi provider.

Despite efforts from its rivals, Facebook is the dominant social network in India — having overtaken Google’s Orkut in 2010 — and the country is a key focus for the site. Last year Facebook officials speculated that the India user base would surpass Indonesia’s to become its largest overseas market, and their prediction came true in February this year.

India’s Facebook membership is some way behind the US’s 154 million users. While Facebook is unlikely to see its numbers in India overtake those in its homeland any time soon, initiatives to support for new languages and feature phones will consolidate its strong position in India.

Facebook is well placed to take advantage of India’s slow Internet revolution, which is seeing the country’s very low Internet penetration (which is less than 10 percent) rise thanks to increased ownership of Web-enabled phones.