India has roughly 457 million mobile subscribers, a massive population that, despite a fondness for SMS, hasn’t been able to receive Twitter updates via text. That all changed this week when Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile provider, inked a deal with the massively popular microblogging service that will allow subscribers to send Tweets at the usual text rates and receive them for free.
As Twitter co-founder Biz Stone put it on the company blog, “Bharti Airtel is offering people in every city, every village, every remote taluk and even the smallest panchayat the opportunity to connect to Twitter and enjoy the open exchange of information with no added fees.” Mr. Stone added that “organic growth has been unusually strong there.”
The impact on the Twitter-verse’s geographic composition wasn’t lost on the telecom. “India is likely to become the largest market for Twitter very soon and this service should be a huge catalyst,” Atul Bindal, president-mobile services, Bharti Airtel told The Times of India, which reported that India is currently Twitter’s third-largest market. The subcontinent joins the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and the U.K. as markets with full SMS service.
Meanwhile, Twitter made an announcement in Japan, a juicy market full of tech-savvy consumers armed with advanced mobile technology that’s nonetheless been tough to crack for U.S.-based social networks like Facebook. Twitter is trying to change that story with a new Japanese-language mobile platform co-developed by Digital Garage. It’s the first such version developed in a language other than English and will work with Japan’s telecoms. Until now, Japanese users could use third-party platforms like Movattwitter.jp. The other interesting thing about the Japan news, according to the AP, is that Twitter’s new offering will play with monetization efforts it hasn’t tried in the U.S., such as banners ads.
According to this AP story, Twitter has been gaining a foothold in Japan as more celebrities buy in, helping to quadruple traffic between January and June.
Of course, it doesn’t take more than a glance to see Twitter’s international appeal as its list of trending topics often have a foreign flavour. Recent ones included calls to visit Indonesia and to help support victims of the recent typhoon in the Philippines.
One of Twitter’s biggest moments came when those protesting the results of Iran’s election, faced with government censorship, used Twitter to communicate with each other. Twitter users the world over changed their locations to Tehran, in a possibly ineffective but still symbolic gesture, to help confuse authorities and protect the communications channel for the dissenters.
All this aside, and as the Japan and India news illustrates, there are plenty of roadblocks and challenges for Twitter’s global ambitions, given that consumer technology habits vary around the world. But when you consider that the current growth the service has achieved has been done on the backs of just 80 people, it’s not hard to see Twitter becoming the international language.