Today I visited the brand new, hip and fancy offices of Mixi (in Harajuku, overlooking Yoyogi Park with a spectacular view of Shinjuku and Shibuya…). Now, my work, both as under-stimulated code monkey (by day) and as a web 3.0 consultant (by night), is of course highly classified shit. But I’d like to write a bit about Mixi, because I find the phenomenon interesting, and I really like Mixi (the site) and visit it daily.
If you haven’t heard of Mixi that means you aren’t Japanese or Japanophile. To put it generalized and bluntly: Mixi is the only social networking site in Japan. Japan is the second largest economy in the world (★pause for reflection★). The reason it’s so popular is basically the same as why Microsoft products are: they were there first, and everyone else uses them, and the basic functionality is actually good.
Mixi, technically, is stone age. Although recently they’ve introduced video upload etc that we have become accustomed with on the modern web, the basic technology is just server-side perl scripts outputting broken html with a table-based design. In other words: it’s web 1.0, although they have a pastel color, but it’s the wrong hue, and pastel color alone doesn’t make web 2.0 – you need rounded corners and rss too.
But as a consumer-oriented product, Mixi is really state of the art. It’s actually statier than the statiest art. I started using the predecessors to nowadays’ social networking sites in junior high school, back in Sweden. That was like 10 years ago now I guess. (Heh, when I think back, that was about the time I got my first mobile phone. Was that only ten years ago?!) . Even though they used about the same technology then as Mixi does now, the culture and usage patterns are completely different. They were about kids doing their best to make their pages look as hideous as possible (like today’s Myspace) and presenting themselves as generally emo and cool. And guys (both young and very old) trying to pick up young girls, of course. But Mixi is not like that.
Oh well, there’s that too. But Mixi is much more woven into the fabric of Japanese society. It’s like an ad-sponsored public service page (fortunately, and strangely, the mobile version doesn’t have ads). And fortunately, you can’t design your own page, and there are no widgets etc, so it’s actually possible to browse around people’s profiles and community pages. Really nice, although I bet it’s more because the Mixi people haven’t figured out how to implement it technically than a conscious decision.
I joined Mixi when I realized my Japanese language skillz had gotten good enough for me to actually understand pretty much all of the communication taking place there. And the reason I keep using it is still mostly to practice reading Japanese; every day on the train I read some new, interesting tidbits from the parts of Japanese society that concern me. Like what’s happening in my town, what’s happening along the train lines I use, what events are going on at my favorite bars and clubs, or if there’s a Swedish-speaking off-kai soon (off-kai: オフ会, people who talk online meet up in real life), etc. I give it three thumbs up!
Anyway, now for the real anecdote here, and the reason I figured I’d write this blog post at all: In their reception they had this wall with all kinds of catchy words and phrases written on it in the style of a tag cloud. Very, very web 2.0 hip I must say… If anything proves that you’re falling behind current developments in the world of the web, it’s that you’re trying to mimic a Google office, I’d say. (I’d like my office to look classical and sophisticated, and there’s always music in the air.)
Now, you can notice that, just beside “web 3.0“, they’ve included the word “self-fertilization“. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who kinda gets a bit suspicious because of that. And I find the graphical proximity to “web 3.0″ especially intriguing. I don’t suppose it’s a statement of theirs? Nah, it’s probably one of those engrish.com kinda moments, you know, when Japanese people confuse R and L, or use Google Translate to translate business emails. Anyways, it’s funny.