For years, Mixi was social media in Japan ... with its millions of loyal users, no other social media service came close to rivaling it. Sure, some Japanese people used other services and many Japanese don’t use any, but in general, one thing was certain – in lieu of “meishi” exchange, you could always say, “Are you on Mixi?” – and the conversation might very well ensue, “You are? I’ll send you MY-miku.”
Recently, social media have evolved in Japan. Social gaming networks aside such as Mobage and Gree, Facebook and Twitter have finally moved in. While critics have been quick to pan Facebook’s less than stellar success, many have dubbed Japan, which produces about 14% of all Tweets around the world as “Twitter-nation.” In the wake of the 3/11 triple disaster, the Prime Minister’s Office, Ground Self-Defense Forces, TEPCO and other organizations began opening accounts. Twitter has also joined forces with NTT DoCoMo, making its logo familiar throughout Japan.
In the wake of all this, one might wonder, “But what about Mixi? Is it headed for the big plunge?” Not according to Mixi spokesman Masashi Tokuda, who describes Mixi as something completely different than Facebook or Twitter. “Mixi is basically a ‘real identity’ social network (SNS) that is used by people who are friends in real life,” he explained. “Compared to other SNS, Mixi works on a smaller scale.”
Tokuda points out that the average number of contacts a Mixi user has is 45.6. According to Facebook, the average number of “friends” a person has is 130. Additionally, Tokuda explains that in Japan, Facebook is used mainly for business.
Tokuda explained, “Some people argue that Twitter is also a social network. However, we believe that Twitter is not a social network, but a tool for sending and collecting information. Thus, since these networks offer different services and people use them for different purposes, they do not have any influence on Mixi.”
Japanese Cell Phone Only Policy
I asked him about Mixi’s “Japanese Cell Phone only” policy which has irked many of Mixi’s foreign overseas users even dubbing it “Mixi’s anti-foreigner policy.” Tokuda explained that the policy was implemented in order to stop “sneaky businessmen” running dating sites from abusing Mixi. (In fact, Japanese police have been involved in a half-decade-long crackdown on dodgy mobile dating sites which often serve as hotbeds for criminal activities such as fraud, extortion as well as child prostitution.)
But Tokuda added, “Once we implement other measures to prevent people from misusing our site, we believe it will be once again possible to create a new account without a Japanese cell phone.”
But does this mean that Mixi plans to go global? No, its concept, after all, is about real connections with real people. Tokuda said that although Mixi carefully supports foreign SNS at the present time his company cannot see it being used to connect with large numbers of strangers living abroad.
One thing I wondered about whether there were cultural differences between Japanese and foreign social media. Tokuda compared Mixi’s features to Facebook’s saying it all comes down to privacy.
“This is perhaps due to the fact that everything a (Facebook) user puts up there is tied up in one place. On the other hand, Mixi offers more private and closed connections, letting the user choose the visibility of his posts and use the service on different levels,” but he added, “We do not think there is any difference between Japan and other countries in the general trend of SNS working to sustain communication between people.”
Related to this, in sustaining communication between people I wondered about the events of 3/11 – and ways in which Mixi can be used in disaster response (one of Twitter’s undoubted strong points.)
Tokuda explained one major advantage of Mixi: Since its “real identity SNS” used by people who are friends in real life, it can easily be used to check if your friends are OK during great earthquakes as well.
“When you do not have access to your cell phone or a landline after a great earthquake, you can use a service called ‘mixi voice’ (murmur) to post a short message about your current condition. In fact, the number of posts made using this service rose eight times in the first 15 hours after the March 11 earthquake, compared to 11 hours prior to it. Afterwards, the regular number of posts rose about twice compared to the previous normal. Similarly, starting the following day the number of post made using ‘mixi diaries’ rose as well, with the number of post made by people living in the area struck by the disaster rising by 44%.”
Tokuda also pointed out that as of March 31, people had given support by buying 1,770,000 items through the Mixi Collection (mixi Mobile Wallpaper Decoration) and Mixi Applications, which made the donation total reach 210,000,000 yen.
In my own experience as a 6-year Mixi user, I must say that I’ve experienced Tokuda’s key point about Mixi being about intimacy as true. When you use Mixi, you don’t feel pressured to be the user with the most number of friends. You don’t get the daily barrage of “friend invites” from total strangers. Spam is rare. Although some people try to use it for other purposes, most Japanese users I know do use it primarily to keep in touch with real world connections.
In conclusion, Japan is a country where people are known to build brick walls around their house and exist in personal circles that can often last a lifetime. In light of this, I have no doubt that while other social media models may continue to take hold in Japan, made for Japan Mixi, its 20+ million users and user communities definitely won’t be going anywhere any time soon.