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Review: Japan’s Youtube killer Nico Nico Douga


I published updated guides on how to register and how to use Nico Nico Video on Asiajin (12/31/2010).

It’s insane. It’s very successful. It’s very Japanese. It’s a cooler video sharing site than Youtube. It’s Nico Nico Douga (web site is Japanese only).

In my guest article for German blog I briefly described the site in Deutsch (I am a German).

In this post, I will extensively review Nico Nico. Click here for my explanation of how to register for Non-Japanese speakers (this post is long enough).

I will review Nico Nico in the following order:

I) General Info
II) Starting Page

III) Functions and Features

IV) Business Modell

V) Opinion

I) General Info
Nico Nico Douga (ニコニコ動画) roughly means Smiling Videos. The site launched in January this year and since then turned into nothing but a huge success story. And no one knows about it outside Japan but that is what this blog is about, right?

Basically the site works like Youtube. People can upload, view, share and comment on videos of any kind. Basic membership is free.

The user base stands at approximately 3 million (data for October 2007, according to Niwango which is the company behind the site). There are almost 600,000 videos uploaded.

II) Starting Page
Please click at the JPEG below for an English description of the key elements of the starting page.

The whole site may look wild and crazy to Western eyes but lots of Japanese people (and me) love the design. Not long ago, Nico Nico even won the prestigious Good Design award (Japanese only).

In contrast to Youtube, you cannot even view videos without an account. That means you have to register to go further than the starting page.

III) Functions and Features
The biggest difference between Youtube and Nico Nico is the way users can communicate with each other. Youtube users usually write private messages to each other or share their opinions via the comment function just below the videos.

With Nico Nico however, people can actually communicate WITHIN the videos themselves! Users can write comments about a particular part of a video. The comments then “float” across the screen from right to left (easier for Japanese people to read) at a time users are free to choose. Now it happens that some videos feature hundreds of comments from hundreds of users overlaying the picture. Please see the video below for an example.

It may sound stupid but Nico Nico users particularly love this feature. It is the point of the service actually. As of November 22nd, almost 600 million comments were made (!).

Now, please click at the JPEG below for an English description of the overview page you see after logging in.

The main categories of videos can be found in two rows (the grey buttons). Categories marked with an “*” are explained separately.

1st row (left to right):

In the “surveys” category, users can start video surveys. For example, users can ask the Nico Nico community which star they prefer in a 1on1 “duel”. See the screen shot below for an example.

In the “radio” section, one can listen to and comment on radio programs recorded and shared by Nico Nico users! It sounds weird to have a function like that on a video site but people seem to like it.

Videos uploaded in the “chat” section give users the opportunity to communicate more easily. The videos here usually just serve as a background.

2nd row (left to right):

In the “Me dancing/singing/playing an instrument” sections Nico Nico users can show how they can do just that. There is a lot of fun stuff to be found here.

In the “Nico Nico tips” section users can provide other users with hints on using the service.

For some strange reason Nico Nico is popular in Taiwan. This is the reason for setting up this special category.

The “Restricted 18” section is particularly interesting. Things get steamier here but there is no really “hard” stuff if you know what I mean.

The “company videos” category features commercial material. At the moment, especially music companies use Nico Nico to present the latest mucic clips from their artists.

IV) Business Modell
There are various ways Nico Nico makes money.

Firstly, there are advertisements on the site.

Secondly, Nico Nico aggressively promotes its premium accounts. The upgrade costs 525 Yen (4,85 USD/3,26 Euro) a month. Premium members get more bandwith, access to Nico Nico on their mobile phones, 2 GB more storage (4 GB total), additional comment colors etc. In October 2007, there were 86,000 premium account holders.

Thirdly, there is the Nico Nico market. Users can choose products from Amazon related to a certain video and put the corresponding links below it. Nico Nico gets the commission.

There are no advertisements embedded in the videos.

V) Opinion
Cool design (mangaesque characters, crazy appearance, I love that)

Very good usability (good interface, clear selection of categories, simple navigation etc.)

Videos load really fast

No time restriction on the videos

Very good selection of high quality, crazy and “exclusive” videos

New and fresh concept (comments streaming over the screen leading to a new and direct way of communication between users)

Limitation of access at certain times for Non-premium members

I want an English version really fast 😉

Amount of videos still limited compared to Youtube

If Youtube is the king of quantity then (at least for me!) Nico Nico is king of quality and fun. Actually, one can’t compare the sites. I wouldn’t necessarily put family videos on Nico Nico. That’s what Youtube is there for. Nico Nico is meant to be crazy and entertaining (for the most part). And I think they really achieve that goal.

Nico Nico is not worse or better than Youtube but -as I said above- certainly cooler.

Here is my explanation in English of how to register.

There is a Taiwanese version of Nico Nico available already. Maybe there will be an English Nico Nico soon?

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.