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Review: Japan’s Uber-social network MIXI


I think we can all agree Facebook and Myspace are the world’s leading social networks. However, both sites play a negligible role here in Japan. Ususally only Japanese people having a lot of international friends are registered.

Over here, there is only one social network that matters: Mixi. Nothing else.

I could write novels about Mixi but I keep it short. I will review the site in the following order:

I) General Info
II) Starting Page

III) Functions and Features

IV) Business Model

V) Opinion

I) General Info
Mixi is by far Japan’s biggest social network. It boasts the biggest user base and excellent corporate development. More than 10 million people (over 99% are Japanese, there is no international/English version) are currently registered. Japan has a population of 125 million.

Mixi is also the first Web 2.0 company in the world which did an IPO. In September 2006, the company managed to raise 1.9 billion USD on the Tokyo stock exchange. Mixi’s founder Kenji Kasahara* became a billionaire at the tender age of 30. The company started operations in February 2004.

ALL of my Japanese friends and acquaintances use it ALL the time: In the university, in the office, in the train, in their free time. The mobile version is almost as often used as the “normal” one. Mixi’s popularity in this country is really insane. The main target group consists of Japanese people aged 15 to 35.

A few days ago, Mixi officially announced it will take part in Google’s “Open Social” system.

II) Starting Page
The starting page is as simplistic as it can get. Check out the screenshot below.

III) Functions and Features

The main functions are depicted in the screenshots below. This is how Mixi looks like directly after login. Please click on the shots to enlarge them, otherwise it could be hard to read my translation of main links in the top rows.

Let me briefly cover the functions:
1) Diary lets you access the latest blog entries from people in the community. Actually Mixi offers the most popular blogging platform in Japan!

2) Community in Mixi basically means forums. There are tens of thousands of discussion forums here: sports, relationships, politics, music, movies etc. A lot of Mixi members also use these forums to sell and buy stuff. So we have a bit of a Japanese Craigslist here as well ;).

3) Mixi allows its users to upload videos and photos. Naturally they can be tagged and commented on as well. Linking to Youtube is also possible.

4) In the music section, users can view the current the community’s most popular songs and artists.

5) Mixi users can also review different products and services in a number of categories. For example, it is possible to post personal opionions on the newest CDs, restaurants, toys, movies etc.

6) The news section covers, well, news from all over the world and Japan itself. Like Google News, Mixi does not edit articles but uses outside sources (mainly Japanese newspapers). Unlike Google News however, the articles are integrated into Mixi. That means there are no outbound links and members can directly comment on news and easily integrate them into their Mixi blogs.

7) Mikly is Mixi’s weekly Web magazine. Topics usually include music, news from the community, the latest events etc.

In the second row (see screenshot above) the major functions can be found again. There are some additional functions though.

1) Message means private messaging between Mixi users. Nothing special here.

2) The Favorites section lets users bookmark specific Mixi members or communities (=forums).

3) The ashi-ato function basically means tracking who accessed one’s personal Mixi profile.

I could write on and on about these and more features on Mixi but for now this summary should be enough to give you a good picture.

IV) Business Model
As to be expected, Mixi makes approximately 80% of its money with advertisements.

However, there are more ways for the company to monetarize their site.

For example, in the “music” section, Mixi users can not only view the community’s most popular titles but also buy them. Moreover, Mixi set up categories of its own (Hip Hop, Jazz, Rock, J-Pop) in this section of the site. Users then can decide which songs are the most popular in those categories and (of course) they can buy music here as well, i.e. via iTunes.

Mixi applies a similar approach in the “review” section. If a user reviews a random DVD for example, Mixi earns money from Amazon or other shops by using affiliate links. This is not really a new idea. However, there are tens of thousands of items reviewed so they must make a handsome amount of revenue with this method as well.

Mixi also offers premium accounts. For 315 Yen a month (2.75 USD/1.95 Euros) members can upload more videos, more photos etc.

V) Opinion
What is the big buzz about? To put it bluntly: There is absolutely nothing spectacular about Mixi. This may be one of the reasons the site is so successful. There are no shiny shiny functions anyone needs. I would say this social network is a very Japanese mix of MySpace’s chaos and Facebook’s lucidity.

Personally, I like Mixi a lot just because it offers great usability through a simplistic design. Also Japanese acquaintences and friends are usually all registered which makes it easy to keep track of them. I really hate having to log into MySpace and Facebook separately, meddling with features no one needs and going through ordeals with chaotic interfaces (MySpace is still terrible in that respect).

An interesting final fact to be mentioned is Mixi’s “invite system”. You cannot just register but must be invited by a Mixi member. This approach is very, very Japanese.

Thus Mixi sees to it that trolls, vandals and other annoying people cannot access the site without them having anyone to hold responsible. Neither a new nor spectacular idea but very welcome nonetheless.

In December 2007, CNN conducted a quite interesting interview with Kenji Kasahara (English language, 8.33 min.). Watch it here.

Serkan Toto About Serkan Toto
I am the CEO & Founder of Kantan Games, Inc., a Tokyo-based game industry consultancy focused on the Japanese market. Please subscribe to updates on this site via RSS or Email.