Twitter swoops into the Japanese market again

October 19th, 2009 by Jason Jenkins

Have iPhone, will Tweet

Have iPhone, will Tweet

As the tools of Social Networking envelop the globe, Japan’s market remains an elusive jewel that every major player wants in their crown. However, not even the mighty Facebook has been able to usurp local favorite, Mixi and its growing audience. Twitter threw its hat into the ring last year,  but the wildfire growth seen around the globe didn’t catch on here (it’s worth noting that some of the most influential and most followed Twitter users in Japan still hail from other countries). But at a  PR event in Tokyo last Thursday, Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, announced a new strategy: Japan-only mobile site design exclusively for local cell-phone carriers.

Will Japanese users embrace it?

Stone says speed, simplicity and a low barrier for entry are key, but he recognizes that a reliable mobile site is crucial. After all, most Japanese access the Internet from their phones already, and part of what makes Twitter interesting is reading someone’s real-time notes from wherever he/she happens to be. This will be even more important for cities like Tokyo, where the time waiting in lines and on train platforms easily lends itself to catching up on updates or writing a few of your own. If the Japanese site is user-friendly and handles Japanese and emoji input well, that’s a step in the right direction. Another important factor is getting the word out via celebrities. It certainly worked in the U.S., and the right people tweeting across the archipelago could draw a considerable amount of Japanese adopters.

Surprisingly, Twitter is getting an unexpected bump from NHK. On the Asiajin blog, Akky Akimoto writes that since NHK is a government-run broadcaster, it usually avoids mentioning specific company names or brands in its broadcasts. But Twitter has been featured and called by name – repeatedly – on several different news segments. Perhaps they see Twitter as more of a service than a brand.

Stone & co. do not hide the fact that they are trying to monetize the platform in Japan. Twitter’s revenue issue is no secret, so I’m guessing that this will be a laboratory for the company on how to turn tweets into cash.

Perhaps the final ingredient to success will be the addition of new features. Adding pictures and geotags to your tweets is already available, and they’ve announced a new Japan-only video function, all of which lets you share information in significant ways. But what I think may help Twitter’s global clout most will be translating any tweet into your own language. The Twitter application I use on my iPhone is already capable of translating, albeit poorly sometimes. But the ability to read the thoughts and updates of anyone in the world could be one of the game changers that everyone is seeking.

There is a long road ahead, and Mixi will certainly put up a fight, but I believe that Twitter will dovetail with Japanese social and mobile culture nicely. It already has, actually. The ability to share information or sum up your state of being in a succinct 140 characters has an almost haiku-like quality to it. Some may consider it the lowest form of intimacy in modern communication, but in a country not known for excessive amounts of intimacy, that may very well be another point in its favor.

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