PARIS (AFP) — A French-language Facebook site went online Monday hot on the heels of German and Spanish versions of the Internet social networking giant.
US-based Facebook produced the site with the help of 4,000 French users, who suggested ways to translate the network's jargon and voted for the best choice.
Founded in 2004 by former Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook claimed to have 67 million active users worldwide at the beginning of March, of whom 1.4 million live in France.
Facebook hopes to boost its global popularity by making itself available in different languages, with a Spanish site launched last month and a German one that went online last week in addition to the new French version.
Members can now choose from a drop-down menu to display their homepage in any one of the four languages, although applications, games and software nuggets so far remain displayed in English, including common Facebook terms -- to "poke" a contact, for instance.
A Facebook petition for the site to be translated into French signed up more than 130,000 members: "Victory! We have our French Facebook," wrote one user, Jasmine Samson from Montreal, Canada.
But others were unimpressed. "Ok, so you've done it, but it's a hatchet job. Why go only half way?" complained David Perez.
A French counter-petition against translating the site had close to 8,000 members, who argued that limiting Facebook to English-speaking, better educated users helped keep out "undesirable" members.
A majority of its users now live outside the United States, with a third based in Europe: France has the sixth largest community after United States, Britain, Canada, Turkey and Australia, the site says.
The social networking site has been gaining ground on the market leader, the US site MySpace, which was founded in 2003 and snapped up two years later by Rupert Murdoch's media empire, and now claims 110 million users.
Facebook's 23-year-old founder Zuckerberg is the youngest ever self-made billionaire according to Forbes magazine.
The site's value has been estimated at as much as 15 billion dollars (9.75 billion euros), based on Microsoft paying 240 million dollars for a 1.6 percent stake in the company last year.
Facebook announced this month it had hired Sheryl Sandberg, a former top executive at Google, to be its new chief operating officer, with the goal of boosting its turnover from 150 million dollars last year.
In charge of business development, Sandberg will be tasked with finding new revenue channels -- including targeted advertising -- while protecting users' personal data.
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