I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Regina Bustamante, Director of Globalization with Plaxo, to discuss the company’s content globalization strategy and how Plaxo users are integral to its success. Plaxo offers a suite of online solutions for social networking. Top services are the address book and calendar applications in addition to Pulse, a sharing and networking tool.

KK: How has the growth of global web access affected the adoption and development of your social networking solutions?
RB: Plaxo’s user base continues to grow steadily since we reached the 15 million user mark back in October 2006. As a result, our product release cycles have accelerated from two or three months to just one week. At the same time, Plaxo’s non-English base of users and users with international connections is growing rapidly. Shorter product cycles coupled with user demand for multilingual products made it necessary for us to explore new ways to release products to major markets in local languages.

KK: What model did Plaxo use for its initial localization/translation efforts?
RB: We localized our address book and calendar tools into French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Simplified Chinese over a year ago, using LSPs for the initial translations. We then provided early release versions to specific “power users” in each international market who reviewed everything, including the UI and suitability to local cultures.

KK: So Plaxo users provided quality assurance in this effort?
RB: Yes, users were even willing to test and report on features such as sorting, name and address formatting, etc. When Pulse was released with localizations into the same languages, non-English users continued to send suggestions, comments, and to act as informal quality control agents. The involvement of the user community improved the quality of local versions of our software.

KK: The Dutch version, released in July, increased the role of longtime power users, correct?
RB: Absolutely. The Netherlands has quickly become one of the largest markets for Pulse and we expanded the involvement of the user community, relying on a group of long-time Plaxo members for the development of the Dutch glossary.

KK: What’s in store for the future of Plaxo’s localization/translation efforts?
RB: For future product releases, we will move to a crowdsourcing model based on a translation portal we are developing that will enable any Plaxo community user to submit and comment on translations. To ensure high levels of quality, this portal includes separate roles for a language moderator and project manager.

KK: What will be the key to success for this model?
RB: Plaxo’s position as a provider of no-charge consumer software helps us to engage users for localization/translation assistance. The key is to only ask users to help with things that directly benefit them. Our crowdsourcing model is not intended to entirely replace LSPs. For example, we have no plans to use crowdsourcing to translate the corporate website or documents such as the Terms of Service or Privacy Policy.