ISSN 2330-717X

Facebook Takes Off In Japan As Local Network Mixi Struggles


By Anna Watanabe

One in two Americans has one. In the United Arab Emirates it’s three in every five. But in Japan it’s just three in 10. Only 30 per cent of Japanese people have a Facebook profile.

While this is still comparatively low to most other developed countries, 30 per cent is a huge increase on last month’s figures, at just 16 per cent. At the beginning of 2011, under 2 per cent of the country’s online population used Facebook.

According to a Nielsen poll, Japanese Facebook visitors have doubled since last year, while a separate poll reveals that Mixi – Japan’s own, domestic social networking service – has seen a has seen a loss of almost 60 million users at the end of 2011.

Until recently, Mixi held a monopoly over Japan’s social networking services. At its peak, the company held an 80 per cent share of the country’s social networking market.

Many believe that Mixi and other well-used social networking sites in Japan such as Gree and even Twitter gained popularity in Japan because they allowed for anonymity.

The New York Times wrote in 2011:

“One trait those sites have in common is crucial to Japan’s fiercely private Internet users. The Japanese sites let members mask their identities, in distinct contrast to the real-name, oversharing hypothetical user on which Facebook’s business model is based.”

However, Tokyo Times reports that following the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake in March, last year, Japanese became much more interested in the real-life happenings of people. At the time of the disaster, phone lines became jammed with too many users and many people turned to social networking services to send and receive information to and from their loved ones.

Last year Mixi vice president Akinori Harada told the Nikkei Shimbun that he didn’t feel that the rise of Facebook meant the inevitable downfall of Mixi.

Harada pointed out that while Facebook lets users connect with  co-workers, companies and people they know but are not necessarily close to, Mixi allows it’s users to connect with their “true” friends, creating a “snug” social networking circle. It is for that reason, Harada said, that real names are not an essential factor for Mixi users.

In many ways, Mixi operates more as an online notice board where users can anonymously discuss topics on public forums, as well as contact individual users.

So who will be victorious in this Facebook v Mixi social network showdown?

For people such as myself, Facebook seems to be the most obvious winner. For users to create a Mixi account, they must first have a Japanese mobile phone number, meaning anyone living outside of Japan is immediately excluded from the service.

But for people in Japan, only contacting other residents, there has been little incentive to leave sites like Mixi and Gree, which incorporated elements of Facebook. Third-party developers were able to make apps for the sites, and until the beginning of this year, Mixi even had it’s equivalent of a “Like!” button.

Last month, rumours that Mixi planned on selling itself to a competitor SNS were denied, but with such talk on the wind, perhaps it isn’t long before globalisation drops anchor in yet another online port.

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Asian Correspondent

Asian Correspondent is an English-language liberal news, blogs and commentary online newspaper serving all of the Asia-Pacific region. The website covers asian business, politics, technology, the environment, education, new media and Asia society issues.

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