The formerly known Japanese and English learning website ‘iKnow’ has recently be renewed, extended and renamed. Now you get the best language learning experience on their new SNS smart.fm. Not only limited to Japanese and English, every kind of language and also many other memorizable content can be trained with three different flash based web applications: ‘iKnow!’, ‘Dictation’ and ‘Brainspeed’.
Your level of proficiency and your daily results are saved on your account. Everybody can upload new items, follow peoples and share information. Compared to other language learning sites the specialty of smart.fm is that you can find content from famous language learning books like ‘Minna no Nihongo’ or special preparation courses for TOEIC or JLPT. Users can study based on professional books and even here the pronaunciation to all content online.
smart.fm is one of the first SNS that offer free and professional user generated content to study even difficult languages like Japanese and Chinese. We predict that more and more SNS will offer free professional online apps. Mobile versions of services like smart.fm will be trend applications in the near future and will bring another change and boom in mobile lifestyle.
Social Network Services are huge in Japan. About 45 million Japanese use at least one of the more than 102 available SNS. However Social Network Services in Japan are still one of the fastest growing online services in Japan and new niche SNS are emerging on a regular base.
Recently so called ‘Oegaki-Chats‘ gain a lot of attention and popularity. ‘Oegaki’ is a Japanese term for “to draw” or “to scribble” and ‘Oegaki-Chat‘ stands for communities where users can share their artwork or communicate through paintings.
The most popular drawing community is ‘pixiv’. Launched in September 2007, ‘pixiv’ now has more than 600,000 registered members, 3 million submissions and about 500 million page views per month (February 2009). Users can share their illustrations and get feedback through ratings or user comments. Most of the illustrations are anime, manga or video game related. Drawings can be uploaded in 3 groups: 2D (e.g. Photoshop creations), 3D (e.g. Poser creations) and analog (e.g. writing brushes). Therefore ‘pixiv’ promotes ‘ComicStudio’, a professional manga drawing software with a special pen tablet. Additionally all uploaded images are organized in an extensive tag structure.
The ‘pixiv’ community grew very fast and top-rated artists even receive a cult like status be fans. Meanwhile there are several live events with competitions throughout the year and exhibitions are held and famous artists give demonstrations. Between February 27th and March 1st 2009, Pixiv held their first convention, ‘Pixiv Festa’, at the East Design Festa Gallery in Tokyo’s Omotesando with exhibitions of 145 different artists.
In October 2008 ‘pixiv’ launched a new community called ‘drawr’. This flash-based system enables users to draw directly in a web application via mouse or pen tablet. This new service is very simple to use, has no search function or tagging system at all and targets a younger user group than ‘pixiv’. Former users of ‘pixiv’ can log in with their existing accounts, but all images and comments can also be viewed without sign-up on both mobile and PC browsers. The interesting feature is that comments can only be made through handwriting or paintings.
Very similar to this community is ‘tegaki blog’. ‘tegaki’ stands for “handwriting”, therefore all images and also comments are also in handwriting. The default widescreen comment field can be changed to picture size in order to reply in whole images. Some artists also use the comment field to write complete manga short stories or continue picture series of other users. There is no real search function except of through tags in this page. All tags are user generated graphics and are managed by users themselfes. In September 2008 ‘tegaki blog’ had 126.000 registered users and 90 million page views per month. Registered users’ age group ranges from early 10s to later 20s.
In early 2008 the Flash Engineer Munehara remembered that when he was in school every student used to write and paint on the blackboards during holidays. Just for fun, he programmed a simple page, now known as ‘kokuban.in’, where you could just write on a blackboard (Japanese: “kokuban”) and save your painting.
By accident some schoolboys found his page on the internet and spread the word. In the next holidays season his page got stormed by thousands of high school students. Today there are more than 100.000 registered users. While in the beginning more than half of the users were Junior High students, today there is a wide range of users. Women in their 40s and man over 65 are the biggest user groups behind school children. The success of ‘Kokuban.in’ can be seen under nostalgic aspects for elderly, but is mostly in its anonymity and tolerance for users who are not good at painting. Everybody can post everything, share it and get a feedback.
SNS drawing is a recent phenomenon that is still at an early stage but already attracts hundreds of thousands of users. We expect this movement to grow much stronger in the next months to come. It is likely that big SNS service like mixi and Gree will start to add these drawing features in the near future. With the latest touch enabled handsets, mobile drawing clients will also start to appear soon. Crowdsourced designs, drawings and idea sketches could open up a new field of opportunities for brands and future business.
The eBook market in Japan keeps growing. Japanese who were famous for their high consumption of printed media use more and more digital media. Today 82% of all eBook are read on mobile phones. According to the ‘Keitai Hakusho 2009’ (impress R & D) the mobile e-Book market was 290 million dollars in 2008. 65% of all eBooks were mobile mangas (comic books) and mostly consumed by young men. For Japanese women mobile novels are really popular now.
The latest surveys conducted by Japan Internet.com K.K. and Research Plus show that the mobile novel market is changing very quickly. Two surveys, the first in October 2008 and the second in March 2009, focused on mobile novel and Japanese women in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Compared to half year ago the usage of mobile novels went up 9%. Today 24.3% read mobile novels on a regular base, compared to 15.3% in late 2008. The most popular mobile novel site is still ‘Mahou no island’ with a market share of 38%. But that’s a big loss compared to a half year ago. Many new novel sites appeared in late 2008 and now have a combined market share of 35%.
Most content of ‘Mahou no island’ and other ‘mobile novel’ sites is produced user-created content. The satisfaction with this content deceased a little bit (-2%) but is still very high (58.9%). By far the most popular mobile novel genre is still ‘romance and love’ with 61%, followed by ‘mystery’ and ‘fantasy’ with only 8%. Research Plus even calls the new media ‘mobile novels’ the new ‘Harlequin’, referring to Harlequin Enterprises Limited, the world leading publisher of series romance and women’s fiction.
I posted this story on my personal blog about 6 month ago and decided to also post it here and update it a little as this topic is becoming more and more mainstream
SNS in Japan
Mixi is Japans most popular SNS service with a claimed market share of close to 70%. When conversation in the media come to SNS, Mixi is also the most mentioned Social Network Service. Mixi had around around 12 million in January 2008 a quite impressive number achieved in less than 3 years. After going public the stock value doubled within 12 hours. Mixi turned into the Japanese showcase for 2.0 success. So far the good part. But looking a bit deeper into the service reveals that the glory days of rising users numbers seem to reached its limit sooner or later. More and more users move and will move away from Mixi looking for alternatives. The reasons: too much little time, too much advertisement, too little added value.
Competitors like Gree, Mobage, S!Town and others offered a wide range of feature right from the start: the possibility to upload and watch videos, other platforms allow users to play games, listen to the playlists of people in their network, locate friends using GPS or even enter into mobile 3D worlds.
Mixi tried to keep-up by introducing video and music functions a few month ago but still Mixi stays what it is: a pure SNS service with some extra services attached to it.
The New Breed
If sheer user number speak for themselves then these two example can show where developments are going:
MobileGameTown (MoBaGe) by DeNA combines casual mobile games and SNS services. Just within less than 6 month registrations surpassed 6.5 million and they are still growing. And different from Mixi (which is web and mobile based) MoBaGe is only available on the mobile phone
“Maho no Island” is a mobile novel platform which allows users to write their own novels on the mobile phone and submit it to the site. The site offers thousands of novels written by users. They even published a book featuring some of the novels and it sold over millions of copies and made it into the best seller charts in Japan. Maho no Island also offers SNS functionalities to its 5.7 million mobile users.
All of these services did not start as a SNS service but they offered a unique value on its own with SNS as an added value to its users. And this is where the trend goes.
For example LISMO, KDDI AU’s mobile music service started to offer a function called “Utatomo” in 2006 for finding people with similar interests based on a users individual play list and their general interests helping the company to increase their overall music sales by 15%.
The time of SNS only services will soon be over. (Expect for maybe specific B2B or special interest SNS offers). In the future a SNS service will not be able to survive simply by providing a social networking functionality as a core service. Instead SNS functions will become part of other services helping to drive personalization (through the data gathered), drive loyalty and in the end to drive sales and generate revenue.