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Twitter Japan launches, with ads

In a bid to get users to accept ads from the get-go, Twitter Japan will feature them from day one.

Twitter Japan launched Tuesday night California time. The site included ads from the get-go in a bid to get users to accept ads right away. The English language version doesn't have ads.
Joi Ito

Twitter Japan launched Tuesday evening California time, and unlike the English-language version of the popular microblogging site, it will feature ads from the get-go.

In a conversation Tuesday evening, Joi Ito of Digital Garage, the Japanese company Twitter tasked with some of the Japanese localization, told me that Twitter decided to launch in Japan with ads from day one.

Digital Garage invested in Twitter as part of the localization arrangement.

"Ads are important," Ito said. "It's always harder to add ads later. So we're launching with them in Japan."

According to Ito, Twitter Japan will have Toyota as one of its first advertisers. The car giant will have its own Twitter feed, and its ads will direct people to that feed. Users will be able to opt in for the feed.

"The idea is to get companies to have Twitter feeds," Ito said.

In addition to being a co-founder of Digital Garage, Ito is also a venture capitalist, the current CEO of Creative Commons, and, among other things, the founder of a very influential World of Warcraft guild.

To launch with ads is an interesting choice for Twitter Japan, especially given that the English version doesn't have them. However, there have been rumbles in recent days--denied by Twitter, that ads are coming.

And no wonder: There is no clear path for Twitter to make even a dime off its consumer English-language site. And, as Ito suggested, it is much harder to convince a user base to accept ads after the fact than from the beginning.

I was curious how kanji might affect Twitter's traditional 140 character limit on the Japanese site, but Ito pointed out that Japanese is already a dominant language on the existing site.

He pointed me to a site that aggregates the most frequent location of Twitter posters, and, at least in the 24 hours between April 21 and April 22, there were more Tweets made from Tokyo than from any other city in the world.

In fact, according to the site, there were more than twice as many Tweets from Tokyo (28,874) as from New York (14,367) or San Francisco (14,348). Of course, if you add up all the English-language cities, Japanese is far behind English, but Ito's point is well taken.

In the end, then, it will be interesting to see if Japanese Twitter users turn to Twitter Japan and accept the ads, or whether they'll stay using the main Twitter site.