Whether it be preferences for food, electronics or cars, Japan is often accused of being, shall we say, “domestically oriented”. How do Japanese preferences reflect in their use of the internet? The Japanese Social Media Prism shows strikingly few foreign firms. This caused me to ask: how does a foreign company crack the Japanese Social Media Prism? The only conclusion I could make was simply don’t be Yahoo!.
Data from alexa.com on the top 100 sites accessed in Japan, divided into three groups of ownership (Domestic, Affiliate, and International) show that 65% of Japan’s top sites are domestic. 34% are either International firms or Japan-based affiliates. Whether or not this is a healthy ratio should be determined by examining a similar internet environment (any suggestions?).
Looking at the entire list of 100 categorized by type of site and ownership it is interesting to note that nearly all offer Japanese localization. In the case of Twitter, this was not essential. Also, Veoh.com has no Japanese interface but half of its audience comes from Japan. Yet one must remember that Japanese is the fourth most used language on the internet (after English, Chinese and Spanish).
Surprising to me, mobile access was not a prominent feature on the list of 100. In Japan many people access the internet with only a mobile phone. This may be due to Alexa’s data-gathering methodology.
Although I didn’t do an historical analysis, time of entry into the market might be an important factor to success in Japan. This I believe was the key to the failure of Facebook.
If you are an international social network service looking for a break in Japan take a look at the gaps in the social media prism and the top 100 that Japanese-language sites are not filling. Then make it easy for Japanese users to share Japanese content (eg. text, music or video) on your network through a Japanese-language interface (like Youtube) or minimalist interface(like Twitter). In the end, it is the content on the network that will attract users. Content will beat out features every time.