Google has launched versions of its video sharing service Youtube in French and other languages on Tuesday. Localized versions now exist for Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, the UK and the US.

The British site can be found at uk.youtube.com. The French site at fr.youtube.com features titles and help pages in French, and the top video is a welcome message from French rapper Kamini, who began promoting his brand of rural rap through YouTube's English-language site last November with a video clip entitled Marly-Gomont.

For now, the international sites draw on the same database of videos and rankings as the US site, but in time Google plans to add country-specific video rankings and comments, it said Tuesday. Today, the French site displays French-language content and rankings previously posted to the main site.

"The big thing for YouTube in 2007 is access," YouTube Inc. founder Chad Hurley said at a Google news conference in Paris on Tuesday. Hurley and his co-founders sold YouTube to Google last October for US$1.65 billion.

"We have a goal to put YouTube on every screen, and we mean on mobile devices and in the living room. Right now it's restricted to your browser, to your PC, and we want you to be able to take that same content and bring it to your mobile phone and be able to watch it in your living room," Hurley said.

Plans to reach those other screens are already under way: on May 30, Apple announced it will put YouTube in the living room by building support for it into a future software update for its AppleTV set-top box, while on Saturday YouTube launched a version of its site for mobile phones. However, it will require partnerships with mobile phone operators, and months or even years of work, before YouTube Mobile offers the same experience as the Web site offers PC users today, Hurley said.

Over half of YouTube's traffic today comes from outside the US, Hurley said, and delivering localized versions of YouTube is a way for the company to capitalize on that.

However, expanding internationally may expose YouTube to the kinds of censorship issues that Google has been experiencing in China.

"I think a platform such as YouTube has to respect local laws and customs," YouTube founder Chad Hurley, adding that the company is developing ways to enable the fine-grained control of content required to do that.

In preparation for the launch of the new sites, YouTube has already signed content partnerships with the BBC; French 24-hour news channel France 24; Spain's Antena 3 and Cuatro TV; Rádio e Televisão de Portugal; the Dutch VPRO and NPO; European football clubs such as Chelsea FC, AC Milan, Barcelona FC and Real Madrid, and nonprofit organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Médécins du Monde, said Google.

In the past, Google's cultural initiatives such as Google Book Search have faced criticism -- from the head of the French National Library, Jean-Noël Jeanneney, among others -- for the way in which they encourage the dominance of U.S. values by making it easier to find cultural resources in English than in other languages. Linking with producers of local cultural content and making it easier to search that material may improve Google's image in some countries.

That said, YouTube has proved popular in Europe despite only having an English-language interface until now. In France in April, its US site had almost as many visitors as the French-language pages of local video sharing service DailyMotion, according to market researcher comScore. (DailyMotion also offers services in a number of other languages, including English, German, Russian and Japanese.)

One European language notably missing from the new crop of YouTube sites is German. YouTube is already the number-one video sharing site in Germany, according to Comscore, narrowly ahead of the German-language service MyVideo operated by MyVideo Broadband SRL of Bucharest, Romania.

In Germany, it's more important to understand the German viewer's mind-set than their language, according to Anca-Alina Seghedi, CEO of MyVideo.

"Most of the German users of video communities already speak English, at least sufficiently to navigate on an international web site. That means the
language barrier is not the main decisive point for users to choose their favorite web sites," she said Friday.

MyVideo may be better placed to understand Germans than YouTube, said Seghedi. "It is questionable whether they will be able to adapt to the German consumer tastes, which has been quite an important aspect of MyVideo's success in Germany."

At Google's news conference on Tuesday, YouTube international manager Sakina Arsiwala said: "We have to talk to more people on the ground. We were not ready for Germany yet, from the product side or partnership side. We would love to be in Germany."