After not being able to attend last month, I went to the Mobile Monday Tokyo event last...Monday. This time the event took place in a lounge-like club space in Akasaka.
Unfortunately, I was too late for Sadayuki Matsumoto's presentation on trunc, a personalized homepage service focused on Japanese web applications. Matsumoto-san is Director of Operations and Chief of Web Operations at web and mobile solutions provider Xtone.
However, I was in time for Tomohito Kinose's introduction to Nico Nico Douga and its mobile version. I have featured Japan's answer to Youtube many times here and on Asiajin.
After Kinose-san's presentation, I took the chance to tell him the I am the guy exposing his service to the Non-Japanese world through my Techcrunch article on Nico Nico (Japanese version) - and he was shocked to see me in person ;). Kinose-san told me he is Director both at Niwango (the company running Nico Nico) and Xtone.
I think the Mobile Monday events are always very, very valuable networking-wise and will attend the next one on August 25th as well. A friend of mine will hold a presentation next time. I don't know if I can tell the topic here and now and therefore prefer to keep it secret.
Please keep in mind the event requires registration and that the organizers are selecting attendees individually!
Here are some pictures:
After not being able to attend last month, I went to the Mobile Monday Tokyo event last...Monday. This time the event took place in a lounge-like club space in Akasaka.
Facebook's CEO Marc Zuckerberg personally traveled to Tokyo to announce the launch of the Japanese version of his super-successful social network. Actually he came for just a day (on May 20th), gave a few interviews telling why Japanese people should join Facebook and left.
It goes without saying this is not the way to go in this country. Just translating Facebook into Japanese (by over 1,300 native speakers) will not help much as well.
Difficult environment for Facebook
I have put together some reasons Facebook will have a hard time gaining a siginificant market share in Japan here. Fellow blogger Takuya Homma adds a few thoughts, most importantly the need of a kick-ass mobile version of a Facebook Japan. This is totally correct, given the fact that the number of users of Japan's largest SNS Mixi accessing the site via their cell phones exceeds 50%. Moreover, a lot of their members use the site as a blogging platform.
Zuckerberg also said in one statement Facebook is known for its safety since people are using their real names. Well, first of all this is not necessarily true. Everybody and his brother can set up a Facebook profile using any name. Secondly, the majority of Japanese users of social networks would HATE to reveal their identity and post photos of themselves online. Just look at Mixi: How many members demonstrate this behavior there? Almost no one...
So in my view Facebook faces a very, very hard time on the Japanese market. At least Zuckerberg came the long way from the USA to show his face - he didn't travel to my home country Germany when Facebook launched the German version a few weeks ago...
Lisa Katayama (a US-based writer and journalist) wrote an excellent article on Facebook Japan, which can be found here.
Last week, CNET Japan held a Tech venture contest and a total of 10 companies were awarded with prices. The event drew a lot of attention in the Japanese web and IT world.
Companies awarded which have an English website (unfortunately only three do):
- Community Engine
(development of network middleware and applications among other things)
(online video commercials through collaboration with consumers, their Rollmio service is available in English)
Companies which offer information in Japanese only:
(operation of i.e. Nico Nico Douga online video platform (my review))
(digital TV recording service)
(mobile platform for videos and photos)
(online auction services)
(face recognition for mobile devices)
More information on the winners is available on Akihito Fujii's blog. Akihito-san is working for Sun Microsystems Japan and thankfully provides a detailed write-up about Tech venture 2008 in English (part 1, part 2).
He also acted as a judge for the contest.
Jig is the name of a genuine Japanese Internet software product, a mobile web browser. There is also an English version available which is very welcome. The best point: For overseas customers the usage of jig is completely free!
A few days ago, Taisuke -who is CEO and CTO of the Tokyo-based company of the same name- demonstrated jig to me personally. And I really liked it!
Jig is actually "just" a proxy browser. The Java application reshapes web sites designed for PCs so that they can be displayed on mobile phones. When installed on a handset, (almost) any given web site can be surfed via the "jig browser mouse". The so-called mouse is actually an arrow which users can scroll across web pages and click on items with.
Video: The jig browser in action (direct link and more videos)
The application supports three views: original PC mode (PC view is taken over without modifications), mobile mode or overview (the web site is shrinked to a single screen on the handset). Tabbed browsing is possible. All three major Japanese mobile phone carriers are supported.
Moreover, jig offers mini-applications called jiglets. These include an RSS-reader, a digital clock, a scheduler and many more. It is also possible to install a mailer jiglet with which you can handle PC mail. Jiglets can be developed by the users themselves as well!
Users can also view Flash videos, WMA and WLV files on their handsets.
Downloading the full browser application costs 630 Yen a month (5.80 USD/4 Euros) or 6,000 Yen a year (55.50 USD/38 Euros). It is also possible to install a slimmed-down version for half that price or download a trial version for free. The overseas version is completely free!
Jig has been around since 2003 and is now competing with other mobile browsers such as Opera Mini and Skyfire.
The company is really active in improving its services. For example, jig won an award at the "Global Mobile Content Awards" held in Korea in 2007 for its "jig movie" application which enables users to view streaming videos (i.e. live content and movies) on their mobile phones. Last December, Yahoo! Japan decided to include a technology developed by jig to include in their mobile widget service "Yahoo! Desktop".
Not bad at all. It is good to see a Japanese company being in such a good position in a very interesting market.
Western academics in Japan-related research often use the term "iron triangle" when referring to a nexus of power which they say comprises private business, the bureaucracy in this country and its mightiest political party LDP.
If the iron triangle really exists, the boldly titled "Information Grand Voyage Project" (情報大航海: Jouhou Daikoukai) must be one of its offsprings in the IT field. This is the English site provided by the initiator, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (unfortunately the link at the bottom of the page is dead). This ministry (aka METI) is by far the most influential political institution in Japan.
Information found in Non-Japanese media about the Information Grand Voyage Project is curt to say the least. In other words, almost no one outside Japan knows about this initiative although it is planned to last 3 years and involves the METI and major Japanese technology companies. Thus it makes sense to shed some light on this project in the scope of this blog.
Here is Hitachi Consulting's more useful site on the project in English.
Key points and goals
- project began in 2007, lasts until the end of fiscal 2009 covering different phases from development, testing to deployment of innovative technologies
- parties involved: METI, Hitachi, JAL, NTT DoCoMo, Oki Electric, Blogwatcher and other companies
- main principles: user orientation, global contribution and use of open source technology
METI claims the goal of this project is to categorize the amount of information worldwide which exploded in recent years due to advancements in Information Technology and make it usable for human beings. The project partners aim at developing a new kind of search and analysis technology which helps filtering information specifically tailored to the individual in question.
However, the METI is not reluctant to say there is one more intention behind its initiative: proactively boosting Japan's global competitiveness in the IT industry.
There have been LOTS of other projects comparable to the Information Grand Voyage Project in the past (many of them not rooted in the technology sector). Usually, these programs are established to improve infrastructure, enhance competitiveness or to pave the way for revitalization of selected regions or industries in Japan.
How is this abstract project plan turned into concrete activity?
The project covers a number of seperate "mini-projects"/experiments which in the end should lead to the "establishment of an innovative environment". This would just mean bla-bla in a lof of other countries but as usual the Japanese mean it.
One example for such a "project within the big picture" is the "My Life Assist Service" jointly developed by NEC and NTT DoCoMo.
Testing by approximately 2,000 volunteers began last month. Testing sites include Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. The experiment is scheduled to stop at the end of next month.
Using the GPS function in mobile phones, the service provides users with filtered/useful information specific to their location.
This is not really sensational news but there is more to it. Based on inference technology developed by the University of Tokyo, the My Life Assist Service also takes into account the individual's Web browsing behavior! By combining a user's location with the analysis of (let's say guessing of) his or her tastes and preferences based on web sites previously accessed, the service is presumably able to offer highly individualized information.
I read an interesting example here [j]. If a user listens to a particular song from a movie soundtrack (via his mobile phone-not unusual at all in Japan) very often, the service can recommend trips to sites where the corresponding movie was shot. Another example: If a person seems to browse through sites for vegetarians a lot, the system could display suitable restaurants in the user's vicinity during lunch time.
Cool and bold ideas but some serious privacy issues have already been raised. The companies involved are working on solving the problem though. That may be one of the reasons the My Life Assist Service is still called an "experiment" [j] by DoCoMo itself.
The Japanese government will evaluate which systems (as said above, other companies are developing projects as well) turn out to be worth integrating into the big picture.
While some of the "experiments" sound promising the budget for the Information Grand Voyage Project as a whole is a mere 40 million USD.
Mixi is the quasi-standard when it comes to social network usage in Japan (read more in my Mixi-review).
Japan's second largest social network is called GREE. There is no information in English available about GREE online. That means outside Japan almost no one knows about this Web site even though MILLIONS of people are using it (mobile and Web version). So I decided it is time for a write-up to present this service to Non-Japanese speakers.
I will review GREE in the following order:
I) General Info
II) Starting Page
III) Functions and Features
IV) Business Model
I) General Info
Gree, Inc. currently employs 74 people in its HQ in Tokyo. The name GREE is derived from a sociological concept named "Six degrees of separation".
The company published a press release last month claiming they have over 3 million users now. Impressive, but still a far cry from Mixi's userbase of well over 12 million. Both services started operations in Japan at about the same time.
GREE's president Yoshikazu Tanaka is 30 years old and founded the company in 2004 (!). Before, he was responsible for operating Rakuten's auctions operations.
Click here for a detailed statistic on details how GREE clearly trails Mixi in the Japanese SN market.
II) Starting Page
GREE's top page is rather minimalistic as you can see from the JPEG below for which I translated key items:
III) Functions and Features
GREE is an invite-only service like Mixi.
In essence, GREE offers the following functions:
- photo albums
- video uploads
- messaging system
What's more interesting is GREE's mobile version. The service is called "au GREE" for KDDI's carrier "au". The company invested 31 million USD in July 2006 to develop a mobile version of the Web site. Softbank and DoCoMo customers know it as "GREE mobile". Mobile GREE is "integrated" into the Web version so that PC-only users are able to interact with handset-only users if necessary.
au GREE in particular proved to be a huge success. Its user base passed one million in July 2007 (information from the latest official press release related to this number).
What's the difference between the mobile and the Web version?
For example, - besides the usual features - au Gree users can send each other html-rich emails (called "decoration-mail"), play games based on flash and get their fortunes told. Click here for screenshots.
However, there is also a mobile version of Mixi which is even more successful. No Japanese Web company would dare to offer a PC-only service!
IV) Business Model
GREE makes money in the following ways:
- affiliate links to online shops
- premium accounts
A GREE premium account costs 315 Yen/month (2.80 USD/1.90 Euros). Premium users get 1 GB of storage for uploading videos and pictures and unlimited Email storage. Moreover, users can keep provisions if the products they reviewed are purchased after clicking an affiliate link.
GREE can keep up with Mixi as far as basic features and functions are concerned.
The huge marketing pull with which Mixi managed to conquer the Japanese SN market is the decisive reason for GREE being a distant second.
Another reason is to be seen in GREE's design and usability approach. The Web site has a business-like, rather "cold" feel to it. Not exactly like LinkedIn or Xing obviously but Mixi somehow exudes more fun and looks more casual.
GREE doesn't do anything terribly wrong but suffers from the "The winner takes it all"-law pertinent to a lot of Web 2.0 services. That is why in my opinion it will be VERY hard for GREE to enjoy a Mixi-like success in Japan in the near future.
Did you ever wonder how your name is spelled in Chinese characters (called Kanji)? Writing it in Katakana (the Japanese alphabet) was yesterday. Now you can "Kanji it" very easily with Kanji-Fandom (website is completely in English).
This nifty and fun new web site (very minimalistic/Google-like) was just released and is still in beta. One of my readers pointed me to this service.
Just type in your name in the text box and the system automatically retrieves multiple Kanji characters which are connected to your gaijin name;).
For the default name "Michael Jordan" the result page looks like that:
You can choose from a list of Kanji and compose your own combination. The Kanji name can then be altered in various ways, commented on, rated etc.
For "Michael Jordan", the automatic recommendation looks like this:
It also explained what the Kanji means. In Jordan's case: Dance, Kick, Length and Group. Aptly named indeed ;).
Kanji-Fandom is offered by B3United, a Tokyo based web company actually specialized in mobile solutions. For example, they provide the search engine for Chaku-Uta. Chaku-Uta is the wildly successful music download service from KDDI (Japan's No.2 mobile phone carrier serving over 25 million customers!).
My posting about the Top 50 web sites in Japan featured a winner: Yahoo Japan.
The company not only dominates Internet search in Japan (approx. 65% market share) but the Internet as a whole, offering a wide range of services. Corporate business figures are not too shabby either. From April to September this year for example, Yahoo Japan's profits equaled 29,27 billion Yen (254 million USD/178 million Euros)!
Here are 8 reasons for Yahoo Japan's success so far:
1) Head Start
Yahoo started Internet operations in Japan in 1996 when Google didn't even exist.
2) Tie-up with Japanese communications powerhouse Softbank
Yahoo Japan didn't just translate its service but localized it in cooperation with a strong Japanese joint venture partner (telecommunications giant Softbank). Actually, Softbank owns 41% of Yahoo Japan while Yahoo Inc. only owns 33% of shares. In my view, Yahoo Japan is in fact a very, very Japanese company...
3) Adoption to Japanese tastes
Yahoo Japan's top page is cluttered (see the screen shot below for a translated version). Google Japan's top page is as minimalistic as its non-Japanese versions which is a good thing in my view. But Yahoo's design is appealing to Japanese people. Users here are used to see a lot of links and text boxes on a top page. In a way, they expect it to be like that!
4) Wildly successful auction site
"Ebay? What's that?" would be the answer the average Japanese Joe would give if asked if they knew a company of that name. There is actually no Ebay Japan (here is why they failed 5 years ago). Yahoo's auction service is absolutely dominant in Japan and makes a LOT of money. There are over 15 million items on sale! They have a popular mobile version, too.
5) Comprehensive online service lineup
While more or less buried in the West, Yahoo Japan is living proof the "Internet portal idea" is very much alive, at least here in Japan. I personally regularly use Yahoo to look up the TV program, weather, news, train information and much more. See the picture below for a translation of the Yahoo Japan top page.
Picture: Top page Yahoo Japan (click to enlarge). This is the brushed-up version which is available after January 1st, 2008.
Let me break down the particularly important "CATEGORIES" column on the right (from top to bottom).
The first part is entitled "Yahoo!サービス" (Yahoo services) and covers 17 items:
Shopping, auctions, travel, news, weather, sports, map, traffic info, real estate, eating out, cars, BBS, blogging, beauty and dating.
The second part (お気に入り, meaning bookmarks) consists of five items:
Movies, music, games, astrology and videos.
The third part is named "ピックアップ" (Pick up) and currently features selected music only.
6) Investments in Japan
Yahoo Japan has a history of investing in the Japanese market signaling serious commitment to the domestic market. The company employs nearly 2.700 people in this country. Its HQ is located in Tokyo's poshest office complex, Roppongi Midtown in Tokyo.
Yahoo is also Japan's biggest broadband operator (Yahoo BB)!
7) Cooperations with Japanese companies
I already blogged about Yahoo Japan's plans to bring the web to HD-TVs (in cooperation with Sharp). The investment in Japanese web company GMO Internet (13.5 million USD two weeks ago) is a second and more recent example for Yahoo's integration in this country's economy.
One recent example for a new service from Yahoo Japan is "Yahoo Videocast" which is not available in other countries. This subsite makes it possible for users to upload and watch videos from their mobile phones and on the web. Yahoo claims videos can be displayed on any handset. Not a huge thing but it shows they put some resources into fighting Youtube and Nico Nico Doga, at least here in Japan.
Moreover, Yahoo Japan and Ebay America are cooperating now so that Japanese people and Ebay users can trade internationally (background). This new service is called Sekaimon ("door to the world").
Did I forget anything?
Google is the world's No. 1 search engine but here in Japan, Yahoo is the undisputed king - not only for Internet search but also as a very comprehensive portal.
Today it came to light Google Japan will cooperate with Japan's leading telecommunications company and cell phone carrier NTT Docomo. In fact, NTT Docomo is the world's biggest mobile communications company. In Japan, the wireless market is clearly dominated by DoCoMo. The company served more customers in 2006 (51.1 million) than KDDI (25.4 million) and Softbank Mobile (15.2 million) combined!
So Google Japan's choice is not too bad and the Shibuya-based subsidiary surely has the pocket money to get a deal like that financed. The Tokyo Stock Exchange liked Docomo's idea. Docomo shares rose to a five-months high today!
In detail, Docomo plans to integrate Google's search engine, scheduling service, Gmail and other Google functions into its i-mode mobile Internet services.
That's not all. NTT Docomo is part of the Open Hand Set Alliance of Google's Android open source platform for the development of software for handsets. While the integration of Google services into i-mode is scheduled for this spring, Docomo aims at introducing a mobile phone based on Android in the second half of 2008. For example, joint development in the area of localized store information and navigation on mobile phones is planned.
Yahoo Japan is dominant also on handsets
i-mode users can already access Google search with their handsets. My guess is that Google will be featured more prominently on and in Docomo's handsets. For example, my Japanese handset features a "Y!" button with "Y" standing for Yahoo. After pressing it, I am connected to the Internet: The starting page is Yahoo Japan...
So maybe one day there will be a "G" button on Japanese phones and Google can finally conquer this difficult market here ;)
I regularly speak with a lot of Japanese IT experts and insiders personally: software developers, programmers, IT company owners, web designers, bloggers etc.
Regardless of the size of the companies they are working for (some are self-employed) I am constantly impressed about their openness when they talk to me. Usually, they have very critical views on the Japanese IT (software) industry as a whole.
The bottom line is usually this:
From a global perspective, Japan's software industry is weaker than it has to be. For example, there is no web service coming from Japan which people worldwide use.
Basically I agree with this diagnosis. Especially the second statement is true.
I believe these articles are worth a read for my Japanese readership as well. The emphasis lies on the factor that counts the most: the professionals working in the IT industry.
1) Newsweek (December 10, 2007 issue)
"Why Apple Isn’t Japanese" is the title of an article in a recent issue of Newsweek International edition. Worth a read although the author puts emphasis on the hardware side.
Essentially the author argues that Japan is falling behind in the global technology race because of out-dated corporate administration systems, lack of innovation, political incompetence and a disconnect of universities and the industry.
He cites Docomo's failure to globally launch its proprietary mobile Internet technology i-mode as an example.
2) JapanInc (Spring 2007 issue)
James Mok, a graduate of Stanford University, is writing an interesting piece on why the Japanese enterprise IT sector can be regarded as relatively weak in his eyes: "My struggle at the Frontline of Japanese Enterprise IT".
Mok's main question:
"Why have Japan’s strengths and its competitiveness in manufacturing not been extended to the Enterprise IT industry?"
His analysis is very deep and deserves special attention because of his working in this very industry in Japan himself.
3) JapanInc (November/December 2007 issue)
In his second article for JapanInc, James Mok asks "How the Japanese IT Industry Destroys Talent".
This is a huge problem for Japan's IT industry. Mok cites a Nikkei Computer survey according to which 70% of all IT people in this country think negatively about their working conditions.
Again, Mok delivers a thought-provoking analysis of the industry and points out why in the current situation even the most skilled Japanese IT engineers can't fully put their potential to good use.
4) Various articles written in Japanese
A reader of my blog (an IT industry insider) pointed me to a couple of articles written by Japanese IT engineers working in this country (sorry, Japanese only).
In these articles/survey results (1,2) and blog postings (1,2) which are (relatively) new some harsh criticism comes to light. The blog postings and surveys are partly connected and refer to each other content-wise.
The surveys reveal that (web) software developers are getting significantly lower salaries than other professional categories. They also have lower chances of getting into highly-paid positions.
One of the bloggers begins his article by writing "日本のIT業界は救いようがない。: Nihon no IT gyoukai wa sukui you ga nai." which translates to "The Japanese IT industry cannot be saved." However, the writer stresses he specifically refers to the system integrator industry (system integrators or "SIer" as an abbreviation in Japanese-English).
Indeed, there is not only ONE software industry but many layers and sub sectors existing within that field. The situation in Japan's game industry is vastly different from the one producing enterprise software, for example.
And there is a high number of talented and powerful programmers in Japan as well of course. For example, the programming language Ruby (on which Ruby on Rails is based) was invented in Japan by Yukihiro "Matz" Matsumoto.
Moreover, some star entrepreneurs do exist in Japan, most notably the members of the 76ers generation (nanaroku sedai: ナナロク世代). All of them are born in or around 1976. These IT-savvy turned company owners include "celebrities" like
- Kasahara Kenji (31, billionaire and President of Japan's No. 1 SNS Mixi)
- Naito Yuki (29, President of web service company Drecom)
- Tanaka Yoshikazu (30, President of SNS GREE)
- Kondo Junya (31, President of web service company and geek heaven Hatena)
and a few others.
As said above, I could write on and on about this very complicated topic. Please keep in mind within the scope of this posting I can only provide my readers with a very rough (and surely incomplete) overview of selected mega trends in the Japanese IT industry.
Some noteworty (business) news from the Japanese Internet scene in the last days:
The Japanese equivalent to NASDAQ, the JASDAQ opened its NEO market last week. Click here for the English press release (PDF).
NEO is aimed at start-ups featuring cutting-edge technology only. JASDAQ also accepts companies operating at a loss if they think the technology behind them is appropriate.
Ubiquitous Corp., a maker of communications software for Nintendo's wildly successful portable game system DS (amongst others), is the first company listed on NEO. Their shares soared from 100,000 Yen to 400,000 Yen on the first day!
Skype collaborates with Excite Japan (website is Japanese only). Yes, Excite is very much alive over here!
Skype has 5 million users in Japan and is apparently not happy with that number. By this cobranding deal, the company said on Tuesday this week it hopes to double the number of customers.
Skype worked with Japanese web heavyweight Livedoor (Japanese only) and chose Excite as their next Japanese partner because of their impressive user base of 24 million (!).
Disney will launch cell phone services in Japan beginning spring 2008. Although Japan has its own anime and manga culture, Disney is VERY popular over here. The company will lease telecommunications networks from Softbank Mobile which is the No. 3 in the Japanese cell phone market.
Moreover, Disney said it wants to design their own handsets based on their popular characters. Also, Disney cartoons will be available for download exclusively for subscribers. The company seems to be bullish about Japan: It hopes to attract 1 million subscribers!
3G cell phones are standard in Japan but not in the US. This reason was cited by Disney when the company gave up similar plans in their home country in September this year.
Learn here how to register for Nico Nico Douga and how to get around here.
It's insane. It's very successful. It's very Japanese. It's a cooler video sharing site than Youtube. It's Nico Nico Douga (web site is Japanese only).
In my guest article for German blog zweinull.cc I briefly described the site in Deutsch (I am a German).
In this post, I will extensively review Nico Nico. Click here for my explanation of how to register for Non-Japanese speakers (this post is long enough).
I will review Nico Nico in the following order:
I) General Info
II) Starting Page
III) Functions and Features
IV) Business Modell
I) General Info
Nico Nico Douga (ニコニコ動画) roughly means Smiling Videos. The site launched in January this year and since then turned into nothing but a huge success story. And no one knows about it outside Japan but that is what this blog is about, right?
Basically the site works like Youtube. People can upload, view, share and comment on videos of any kind. Basic membership is free.
The user base stands at approximately 3 million (data for October 2007, according to Niwango which is the company behind the site). There are almost 600,000 videos uploaded.
II) Starting Page
Please click at the JPEG below for an English description of the key elements of the starting page.
The whole site may look wild and crazy to Western eyes but lots of Japanese people (and me) love the design. Not long ago, Nico Nico even won the prestigious Good Design award (Japanese only).
In contrast to Youtube, you cannot even view videos without an account. That means you have to register to go further than the starting page.
III) Functions and Features
The biggest difference between Youtube and Nico Nico is the way users can communicate with each other. Youtube users usually write private messages to each other or share their opinions via the comment function just below the videos.
With Nico Nico however, people can actually communicate WITHIN the videos themselves! Users can write comments about a particular part of a video. The comments then "float" across the screen from right to left (easier for Japanese people to read) at a time users are free to choose. Now it happens that some videos feature hundreds of comments from hundreds of users overlaying the picture. Please see the video below for an example.
It may sound stupid but Nico Nico users particularly love this feature. It is the point of the service actually. As of November 22nd, almost 600 million comments were made (!).
Now, please click at the JPEG below for an English description of the overview page you see after logging in.
The main categories of videos can be found in two rows (the grey buttons). Categories marked with an "*" are explained separately.
1st row (left to right):
ALL MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT ANIME GAMES SURVEYS* RADIO* SPORTS POLITICS CHAT* SCIENCE HISTORY COOKING NATURE
In the "surveys" category, users can start video surveys. For example, users can ask the Nico Nico community which star they prefer in a 1on1 "duel". See the screen shot below for an example.
In the "radio" section, one can listen to and comment on radio programs recorded and shared by Nico Nico users! It sounds weird to have a function like that on a video site but people seem to like it.
Videos uploaded in the "chat" section give users the opportunity to communicate more easily. The videos here usually just serve as a background.
2nd row (left to right):
VLOG ME DANCING* ME SINGING* ME PLAYING AN INSTRUMENT* NICO NICO TIPS* PREMIUM USER AREA TAIWAN* MISCELLANEOUS TEST VIDEOS RESTRICTED-18* COMPANY VIDEOS*
In the "Me dancing/singing/playing an instrument" sections Nico Nico users can show how they can do just that. There is a lot of fun stuff to be found here.
In the "Nico Nico tips" section users can provide other users with hints on using the service.
For some strange reason Nico Nico is popular in Taiwan. This is the reason for setting up this special category.
The "Restricted 18" section is particularly interesting. Things get steamier here but there is no really "hard" stuff if you know what I mean.
The "company videos" category features commercial material. At the moment, especially music companies use Nico Nico to present the latest mucic clips from their artists.
IV) Business Modell
There are various ways Nico Nico makes money.
Firstly, there are advertisements on the site.
Secondly, Nico Nico aggressively promotes its premium accounts. The upgrade costs 525 Yen (4,85 USD/3,26 Euro) a month. Premium members get more bandwith, access to Nico Nico on their mobile phones, 2 GB more storage (4 GB total), additional comment colors etc. In October 2007, there were 86,000 premium account holders.
Thirdly, there is the Nico Nico market. Users can choose products from Amazon related to a certain video and put the corresponding links below it. Nico Nico gets the commission.
There are no advertisements embedded in the videos.
Cool design (mangaesque characters, crazy appearance, I love that)
Very good usability (good interface, clear selection of categories, simple navigation etc.)
Videos load really fast
No time restriction on the videos
Very good selection of high quality, crazy and "exclusive" videos
New and fresh concept (comments streaming over the screen leading to a new and direct way of communication between users)
Limitation of access at certain times for Non-premium members
I want an English version really fast ;)
Amount of videos still limited compared to Youtube
If Youtube is the king of quantity then (at least for me!) Nico Nico is king of quality and fun. Actually, one can't compare the sites. I wouldn't necessarily put family videos on Nico Nico. That's what Youtube is there for. Nico Nico is meant to be crazy and entertaining (for the most part). And I think they really achieve that goal.
Nico Nico is not worse or better than Youtube but -as I said above- certainly cooler.
Here is my explanation in English of how to register.
There is a Taiwanese version of Nico Nico available already. Maybe there will be an English Nico Nico soon?
Nowadays, it is quite hard to get a cell phone in Japan without a TV tuner built in. The first phones able to make use of the Japan-only "1seg"-system (broadcasting of digital audio and video signals) came out as early as 2005 (!).
Yesterday, Sharp -the king of the ring concerning TV displays- announced sales of cell phones equipped with its TV systems topped the 5 million mark since they were introduced in May this year! The JEITA (Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association) said the total number of phones with a TV function built in totaled 13,2 million units until August this year.
Now, I have to say the quality of the 1seg-system is just great: The video is crystal clear and the audio is of superb quality, too. This means the Japanese really have a technological edge here. By the way, Sharp also announced they will produce TV cell phones with a thickness of just 1,8 cm, making the hardware even cooler (they reduced thickness by 5 millimeters).
However, there is one big problem: As of now, watching TV on a Japanese cell phone (even if it is digital and all that) is crap. Can you do it in a train? No. Can you do it in the metro? No. Can you do it in a car? No. Can you do it in a building? It depends (!). That is right, sometimes watching TV in a normal house is just impossible because there is no signal....
But I am sure Japanese companies will solve these problems someday. And: It is free to use for us consumers.
In the future, mobile TV could also be linked to mobile Internet meaning lots of opportunities for new applications, advertising models, marketing approaches, etc. etc.
"Being able to get on the Net via a cell phone encourages delinquency and deviation. Even when children don't have wayward intentions, they are easily lured to harmful sites through devious methods."
This advice was given by a professor in the Graduate School of Social and Information Studies at Gunma University in an article for Shukan Bunshun (a weekly Japanese magazine, web site in Japanese only).
The professor is very skeptical if Japanese parents are able to "control" their kids' surfing behavior on the mobile Internet.
In absolute numbers but also in proportion, Amazon Japan is not as successful as it is in the US or Germany (my home country). However, it is doing surprisingly good. Wal Mart Japan tanked in the offline world, as you may know, even though they are not dead yet.
In a rather bold move by Japanese standards, major merchandising store Ito Yokado tries to attack Amazon with a relaunched shopping site. The new home page (Japanese only) features a total of 100,000 items.
The product range features foodstuffs, fashion, kids and baby items, furniture, toys, cosmetics and gifts (from left to right, as highlighted in red on the picture below).
Pictures (click for bigger versions):
Start page of Ito Yokado's new shopping site vs. Amazon Japan
Is it me or is the Ito Yokado site kind of "similar"?
Anyway, as a USP users at least can order special groceries from local farmers and factories. However, Ito Yokado plans to widen the product range in the near future.
Very important for online success in Japan: The company also announced it will launch a mobile version in October this year.
In Japan, Rakuten (楽天) with its thousands of "malls" and millions of available items is the king of the online shopping ring.
The Tokyo based company has almost 4,000 employees and boasts $1.7 billion+ annual revenue for fiscal 2006!
It is truly a bizarre and terrible incident about which the Japanese media reported at length this weekend.
According to police, three men (between 32 and 40 years old) killed a 31-year-old woman in Nagoya on August 24th. They are accused of kidnapping the woman and robbing her of about 60,000 Yen (520 USD). The victim was killed later in a parking lot.
Believe it or not, the police says all three people are members of a mobile Internet "crime community" and did not know each other before! The men met online to find partners to commit a crime to get money. Luckily they were caught and indicted this Friday.
There is certainly a dark side to the Japanese Internet world. The country has a long history of Internet related suicides. Total strangers become acquainted online and then meet in the real world to commit suicide together.
Cybercrime is a big issue in this otherwise very safe country. In the past, the Japanese police has been heavily criticized in the public for being too slow in responding to Internet-related crime.
Kenko-plus is a relatively small entity based in Osaka and calls itself a “IT & Bio-Informatics Total Solution Company”. Hmmm, okay.
As of now, the website (www.kenko-station.com) only displays a logo but soon restaurants, confectioneries etc. should be able to submit various information about their menus online. This includes ingredients, size of the portions served, cooking style and so on.
Based on the data received from participating restaurants, the site calculates calories and presents additional nutritional information for each menu chosen by the user.
Kenko-plus is trying to benefit from three factors:
Japanese people are obsessed with food and especially eating out.
Recently, the trend to keeping a health-conscious lifestyle and diet is rising in the country.
Japanese people love the concept of “anshin” (安心) which can rougly be translated as "safety" or "security". The web site provides (hopefully) exact information about what you will eat when you order a specific menu at a specific place. There have been a number of scandals in the Japanese food industry in the last 2-3 years so consumer awareness is growing.
In that light, this might work concept-wise.
IMHO the participation fees ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 Yen per month (17.60 USD-44 USD!) are quite high though. Nevertheless, Kenko-plus is hoping 2,000 restaurants will join their project in the first year, according to Nikkei.The site will also be available in a mobile version so people outside can access information about a restaurant and then decide whether to go for it or not.
If you can read Japanese, you can download a PDF with details about the web site here.
This first blog entry already deals with a hot topic, Japan eyeing a post-Internet network.
Two weeks ago, the Japanese communications ministry (総務省: Soumusho) said the new technology is a must regarding current security issues and quality problems on the web. The new Internet architecture is planned to be brought into commercial use in 2020.
According to communications minister Yoshihide Suga cooperation between various academic, governmental and business organizations will begin as early as this fall. The budget for the project is not yet fixed. The Japanese fiscal year begins on April 1st, 2008.
Hmmm, what can we expect from this? Although Japan used to be No. 1 in the mobile Internet field (I used NTT Docomo’s excellent imode service for the first time in early 2000!), the country never was never really able to penetrate and set standards in foreign markets.
Maybe all this will change especially since Japan is open this time to cooperate with other countries including the US. The new network is planned to cope better with breakdowns, viruses and spamming. Moreover, the Japanese would like to ensure faster data transmission. Sounds good to me.
The political and economic intention behind the project is clear: Japan stands out as a pioneer in internet architecture and related hardware and software businesses here can enjoy a much-needed improvement in global competitiveness (more on this at a later time).
The media here (TV, online, print) reported in-depth about the planned post-Internet network. I will keep you up-to-date.