TOKYO: Twitter's position as the number one microblogging site in Japan could soon come under pressure, as Ameba Now, a domestic rival, starts to gain ground in the market.

According to Nielsen NetRatings, the measurement company, 4.7 million people in the Asian nation accessed Twitter – which first launched in the country in 2008 – in January.

However, just three months after going live, Ameba Now has seen its user base swell to around a million unique visitors a month.

It utilises a similar format to that pioneered by Twitter, allowing members a maximum of 140 characters when making entries, so they can easily add material to both of these competing properties.

One of the main factors behind Ameba Now's success is argued to be that it has signed up hundreds of celebrities as contributors thus far.

Cyber Agent, which owns this web property, has employed a sales team of ten people to recruit well-known figures for the site, with Mao, the singer from Sid, a rock band, the most popular at present.

More specifically, Ameba Now tailored aspects of its service to suit the specific requirements of Japanese consumers, most simply by allowing the use of popular "smiley" icons not catered for by Twitter.

It is also designed to provide maximise usability on mobile phones, which are the main way the online audience seek log-on to social media platforms.

"I think a lot of people sign up because they want to reply or comment to celebrities," said Eiko Nagayama, assistant producer at Cyber Agent.

"On Twitter your username needs to be in roman letters but on Ameba you can have a nickname in Japanese characters," she added.

At present, 70% of this portal's membership is comprised of women, while men make up a majority of their counterparts on Twitter.

However, Nielsen reported that while visitors to Ameba Now spent an average of seven minutes on its pages in January, this total stood at a more substantial 25 minutes for Twitter.

Both of these fast-growing properties also face the challenge of effectively monetising their offerings, with Twitter having launched a trial ad programme in Japan, and Ameba Now likely to follow suit.

"For now we want to increase the number of users as much as possible and then think about how it can live as a business," Nagayama said.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff