Microsoft Launches Web Log Service in Japan

TOKYO (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp. said on Wednesday it was launching its first-ever Web log service in Japan next week and aimed to have one million users in the first year, intensifying competition with Google Inc.

Web logs, or blogs, have been around for several years, serving as online journals for Web-savvy disseminators of information, ranging from personal ramblings and product reviews to social commentary.

But blogging drew renewed attention after Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (news – web sites) said in May that Web logs and the way they were distributed could be used as business communication tools, signaling Microsoft’s growing awareness of blogging as both a potential threat and a new business opportunity.

Microsoft plans to start a trial service on August 10 in cooperation with unlisted Japanese contents provider T.O.S Co. Ltd., followed by an official launch later this year.

It has yet to be decided when Microsoft will launch a blog service in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

“We are offering a service that can be used from both personal computers and mobile terminals in a seamless manner. That differentiates our service from others,” MSN Japan general manager Yoshie Tsukamoto told reporters.

MSN is Microsoft’s Internet division.

Microsoft said its new service, which enables blog writers to update their entries and visitors to have access to blog sites from mobile phones, not just PCs, was well suited for Japan, where nearly 90 percent of cellphones have Internet capability. Google, the number one Web search company, has already upgraded its service, which it bought in 2003, by adding features that allow users to publish content from any e-mail-enabled device, such as cellphones and handheld devices.

Nearly nine out of 10 households in Japan have wired or wireless Internet access, making it one of the most Web-enabled nations in the world, according to the Telecommunications Ministry.

The new service will be offered free of charge. But Microsoft will be raising revenue from Web advertising and may charge fees for additional Web log services, such as expanded capacity to hold large content.

Blogging in Japan is still in its infancy. Several major Internet service providers including Nifty Corp, a unit of electronics conglomerate Fujitsu Ltd, started their services late last year or early this year.