Japan’s largest mobile operator NTT DoCoMo and Twitter have announced a partnership that allows the operator access to Twitter’s database. As a part of the deal, users will be able to tap phones in order to follow each other on Twitter. The operator will also integrate Twitter updates and other related content in its feature phone portal called i-mode and on its smartphone portal, the DoCoMo Market. In total, the new integrations will reach 58 million NTT DoCoMo customers in Japan.

Although not part of the press release, a Twitter-based location-based alerting service is in the works too, according to reports. This service will involve harvesting tweets to alert Twitter users about local events and places, among other things.

A Twitter Alert Service

The location-based alerting service will involve the collection of public Twitter updates, but with the personal information removed. Twitter will be responsible for anonymizing this data before turning it over to the NTT DoCoMo. The software involved, expected to launch this winter, will initially run only on phones from the carrier itself.

This is an important partnership for Twitter, which is a hugely popular service in Japan at present. There are currently around 17.57 million Twitter users in Japan, and as we reported back in April, roughly 25% of all tweets now come from Japan alone. The service is more popular than Facebook in that country, The New York Times reported last year. One Japanese operator, SoftBank, even offers some phones with a dedicated Twitter application pre-installed on the home screen.

How NFC is Being Used with Twitter in Japan…and Elsewhere

Of course, the piece of this news we’re most interested in (and extremely jealous of) is the NFC-enabled “tap to follow” functionality which will soon arrive in Japan.

NFC, or near field communication, is a short range wireless technology that allows for the exchange of data between two devices. It’s an enabling technology for the many upcoming mobile payment systems which will allow users to pay for purchases at point-of-sale, instead of with a credit or debit card. Just this week, Visa announced the launch of a digital wallet service that will use NFC.

But NFC, which is now arriving on modern smartphones like the Google/Samsung Nexus S, Samsung’s Galaxy S II, Nokia’s Astound, RIM’s BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930 and more soon, is not just for mobile wallets. It can also be used to facilitate simple tasks or data exchanges.

For example, Foursquare experimented with NFC-based check-ins at this week’s Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco, Rovio is experimenting with NFC in its new Angry Birds Magic game and DoubleTwist is allowing Android users to share MP3’s with each other using NFC.

The only notable service in the U.S. that’s looking at NFC’s use with Twitter, however, is Hashable. Its Android application was updated this week to allow NFC-based contact sharing. Simply tap phones with another Hashable user on Android to exchange contact info via email or “check-in” with that person on Hashable. Although automatic Twitter following is not supported at present, Hashable says the feature is in development now.

Sadly for we early adopters, there are only a handful of NFC-enabled Android applications at present, and fewerstillthat involve any sort of NFC-enabled Twitter functionality. Most are more targeted at the geek/experimental community, not mainstream consumer. In time though, as more NFC phones ship, that situation should change.

sarah perez