Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Brief History of Social Media In Japan

GREE, just one cloud in Japan's perfect SNS storm. 

The social media battle in Japan has all the uncertainty, the early call-ins and punditry of an electoral race.

(Cue Wolf Blitzer-like commentary:)

“I have some numbers coming in here… One second… Let’s see—yes, I’m seeing 13 million for Facebook. Just 13 million. And that’s got to be disappointing.”

“Mixi ahead with 17 million. The young demographic proving pivotal here.”

“Twitter going strong with 30 million.”

“LINE still leading with an impressive 40 million. We’re predicting LINE will take this contest.” 

And that’s not even including GREE and DeNA, two other SNS (social networking services) that have enjoyed varying levels of success in Japan.

Just take a look at the headlines from recent years:

Everyone trying to avoid being the “also-ran” in this metaphor.

Of course, services like LINE and Twitter provide a messaging/microblogging platform rather than a counterpart to Facebook’s and Mixi’s more fleshed-out, app-loaded social networks. However, in light of LINE CEO Akira Morikawa’s determination to establish LINE worldwide through the addition of new features, as well as the fact that many users view Facebook and Twitter as an either-or, rather than as a both-and, one can make a case for viewing these companies as being in direct competition with one another.

LINE may still far outstrip its rivals at the moment, but given the wild swings that have taken place in the social media landscape, it pays to take another look at the evolution of different services in the Japanese market. The timeline below picks up at 2006, the year that Mixi—Japan's perennial SNS powerhouse until recently—made its stock market debut.


• September: Mixi debuts on the Mothers market at the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Thirty year old founder Kenji Masahara becomes an instant success as the bidding price more than doubles the initial public offering price of ¥1.55 million. Combining the connectivity of Facebook (it will be another year before Facebook breaks out of the college student bubble) with the intimacy of a blogging platform, the site is invitation-only and requires a Japanese mobile mailing address.

• February: DeNA comes onto the scene with Mobage Town (now Mobage), which will eventually combine mobile games with social networking features.


• Yoshikazu Tanaka, founder of GREE and Japan’s youngest billionaire, brings the company into social network gaming with the launch of Tsuri-Sta (Fishing Star). Branching out from an ad-based focus, GREE starts drawing revenue from mobile gaming.


• June: Mark Zuckerberg takes the stage at Tokyo’s Ayoama Diamond Hall convention center to announce the launch of Facebook Japan. The SNS faces strong competition from Mixi, which boasts over 10 million users, including more than half of all people in their twenties.

• Twitter launches a Japanese version of its service, its first non-English release, in collaboration with Digital Garage. Digital Garage CEO Joichi Ito predicts the service will appeal to Japanese accustomed to “murmur[ing], a kind of short blogging thing.”


• May: Mixi CEO Kenji Kasahara announces that the company will see its first decline in growth since going public, despite the service remaining Japan’s top SNS. Kasahara goes on to publicize his plan open Mixi’s mobile and PC platforms to third-party developers.


• December: Japan’s Federal Trade Commission investigates DeNA on suspicion of blocking Gree’s access to game developers.


• January: Facebook Japan’s growth stalls at 2 million users, compared to over 20 million each for Mixi, Gree, and DeNA’s Mobage Town. Some blame the low numbers on Japanese user’s reluctance to disclose personal information on the Web (most Mixi users use pseudonyms).

• March 11: On the day of the Tohoku earthquake, Tweets jump to 1.8 times the average, totaling 330 million. The microblogging service allows the public to stay informed of developments and counter government misinformation. In one instance, a group of Tokyo hackers take to Twitter to post their own Geiger counter readings.

• June: NHN Japan, a branch of the Korean NHN Corporation, launches its LINE smartphone app. Developed in the wake of the 3/11 disaster as a way for NHN employees to communicate despite toppled phone lines, LINE offers both messaging and social networking and allows users to send each other “stickers.”

• July: The recently rebranded Mobage makes its worldwide debut on the heels of Isao Moriyasu’s June appointment as president.

• August: Mixi unveils public pages for companies and individuals, including Disney Japan. As with public pages on Facebook, Mixi’s allow access without login information.

• November: Gree files a lawsuit against DeNA, claiming the company interfered with its business despite an earlier order to desist from the Federal Trade Commission.

• December 9: Japanese Twitter users rack up the highest number of tweets per second ever recorded during a broadcast of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic film, Castle in the Sky. Following a tradition begun on messaging board 2chan, users tweet “balse,” a magic spell spoken by the film’s protagonists, a whopping 25,088 times per second.


• February: Data from Nielsen ranks Facebook number one for growth in unique visitors among Japan’s social networking services. The company’s success is attributed partly to its convenience as a job-hunting tool for young graduates and the popularity of 2010 film The Social Network.

• October: In a direct counter to messaging service LINE, DeNA rolls out Comm, a free messaging application with stamps and other features. Users are required to use their real name and date of birth.


• January: LINE tops 100 million users only nineteen months after its debut, about a third of the time it took Facebook to reach the same number. CEO Akira Morikawa states his intention to expand into the U.S.

• April: Japan’s National Diet enacts a bill allowing political candidates to campaign online for the first time in history. The party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hands out iPad minis to all its candidates to encourage them to promote on social media.

• April: GREE announces its first profit decline since going public in 2008. Growing numbers of smartphone subscribers—37 percent of all contracts as of March 31—and new games from Apple and Google begin to cut into GREE’s traditional social gaming base.

• September: According to a Reuters Asian markets data dump, LINE boasts 240 million users in 230 countries.

--Andres Oliver


Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

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