Twitter Launches in South Korea

The popular microblogging service has just launched an array of websites and smartphone apps to win over the Korean market. But they've got one problem: The homegrown competition.

Korean Twitter South Korea

Twitter's international march keeps on going on and on: The popular microblogging service has just launched a Korean-language version.

The Korean version of Twitter's first official day of operation was Wednesday, January, 19. To kick off, Twitter sent out a Korean-language-only press release and co-founder Evan Williams gave a press conference in Seoul. Rather than using a specialized domain name, web users are expected to access the Hangul-alphabet Twitter through the primary Twitter.com portal.

In addition, the official Twitter Android and iPhone applications have been updated to ensure full Hangul-alphabet functionality.

Williams emphasized Twitter's growth rates in Asia during his presentation. According to Kim Hyung-eun of the JoongAng Daily, the Twitter co-founder told assembled press and techies that “it's only the beginning […] The Korean-language tweets have grown even faster than tweets in general. We’ve seen over 3,400 percent growth of Korean language tweets from January 2010 through December.”

Twitter's Korean expansion is also being accompanied by strategic partnerships with local firms. Partnership agreements have already been signed with popular web portal Daum and mobile carrier LG U+. According to JoongAng Daily, talks are underway with local web portals NHN and SK as well as with national telephone monolith Korea Telecom.

In the press release sent to the Korean market, Twitter emphasized the celebrities and prominent businesspeople already using the service. Twitter has always had a robust presence in South Korea--users were previously able to enter messages in the Hangul alphabet even though there was no actual official Korean-language portal.

Users in the tech-crazy country have been able to use a wide variety of Korean-language third party applications to use Twitter in the past for both computers and smartphones. In addition, multilingual Twitter applications such as TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop also have healthy followings in South Korea.

However, Twitter faces a problem in their expansion into the Korean market—South Korea already has rabidly popular social networking sites of its own. Cyworld, the country's most popular social networking service (which also crashed and burned when it attempted to enter the American, Japanese, Taiwanese and European markets), has nearly 25 million users in a country with a population of approximately 49 million. By comparison, Facebook only has 2.3 million Korean users.

Twitter has also played a tangential role in the South Korea-North Korea conflict. In August 2010, the North Korean government opened an official Twitter account--@uriminzok-- that offers an intermittently updated stream of odes to the North Korean government, threats to the South and quotes from Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. South Korea's government quickly blocked access to the North Korean Twitter feed and claimed that it violated regulations on citizen communication with North Korean citizens.

North Korea's Twitter account has not been updated since January 7, when hackers broke in and posted a series of messages boasting about nuclear weapons spending and drinking parties in lavish villas, along with a call to overthrow the North Korean government. Amazingly, the hacked messages remain on North Korea's Twitter feed . No individuals or governments have yet taken responsibility for the attack on the North Korean Twitter account.

South Korea isn't Twitter's only international launch in 2011 either – Fast Company has previously reported that Twitter is launching an Arabic site in the coming months.

Follow the author of this article, Neal Ungerleider, on Twitter.

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