XIHA Life, a site that calls itself “the world’s first truly multilingual social network”, has launched in the United States. The site is geared towards multilingual users who feel constrained by the single language networks offered by sites like Facebook (while most social networks have begun integrating foreign languages, they limit themselves to one language at a time).
While the site does cater to an international audience, it isn’t “multilingual” in the sense that it breaks down language barriers – the site doesn’t have any translation features. Instead, users tell tell the site what languages they know (and which ones they prefer), and the site will only present the messages or posts each user understands. In my own testing, the system for designating preferred languages worked well enough – after entering English and Spanish as my favorites, I rarely saw anything I couldn’t understand.
Xiha Life offers a number of features similar to those found on MySpace (like a dedicated music site, which launches today), but Jani Penttinen, the company’s Chairman and CTO, says that XIHA is not designed as an alternative to these established sites, but is more like another channel for bands and users to reach one another.
XIHA is currently getting around 500,000 monthly users worldwide (a minuscule number compared to the most popular social networks), but is targeting a large niche that has largely gone unaddressed. Penttinen says that there are 37 million multilingual speakers in the United States alone, with obviously many times that number abroad.
XIHA stands little chance at becoming the next major social network – there may be a large number of people who like communicating in different languages, but most of these people are probably comfortable on an existing network and are unlikely to switch just for diversity. But for users looking to communicate with friends across a number of different countries (or who’d just like to improve their language skills), it serves its niche audience well.