The Japanese panorama of social network is fairly different from the Western one. Western leading social networks – Twitter, Facebook – are not really popular among Japanese users which prefer local social network as Mixi or Gree, and this mainly for linguistic reasons. But things have changed few weeks ago when Google launched its brand new social network service worldwide.
Although it is still in its beta testing version and can be joined only through invitation, Google+ since its launch, on June 28, counts more than 10 million users and the number grows day after day. Despite it is quite young, in comparison to Twitter or Facebook, and the system of invitation it is based on, Google+ is rapidly increasing the number of its members, even in Japan. And this quite strange, considering that Japanese people tend to be suspicious towards Western social networks, Facebook in particular. Moreover, they join Google+ with a speed much faster than with the other social networks, even Mixi or Gree. Akky Akimoto, one of the major Japanese bloggers (www.asiajin.com), carried out a survey based on Japanese surnames registered in Google+ – similar to the one done in the US by Paul Allen two weeks ago – and calculated the number of Japanese users between 500.000 and 1 million. Another element making the success of Google+ so odd is the fact that Google is not the most popular search engine, being far behind Yahoo! And the same goes for Gmail.
Then why is Google+ becoming so popular among Japanese internet users in such a small lapse of time?
The main reason is linguistic. Google+ has Japanese menus and help pages from the beginning. Also promotion movies have subtitles is Japanese. This is in contrast to the first moves of both Twitter and Facebook, having no menus nor application in Japanese language, making difficult for Japanese to get used to them. Since Japanese users had to wait many years to have Western social networks in Japanese, they preferred Japanese ones.
The second reason, strictly linked to the first one, is that therefore Japanese users feel much more comfortable and familiar with Google+ than with the two other Western social networks and furthermore they can enjoy much more features of Google+ service.
Another important question is whether the increasingly popular Google+ will become an alternative to Mixi and thus the leading social network in the Japanese market. Here the key point is whether the Japanese users will move from their usual social network and give a chance to Google+. Their decision depends on the relationship they have with their favorite social network, mainly if they feel comfortable with it or not.
Google+ v Mixi:
As previously said, Mixi is the leading social network in the Japanese web market. Google+ interface is quite similar to the Facebook one and that means, for Japanese users (as pointed out by Akimoto), more difficult to use than Mixi. Therefore it is possible that Mixi users, feeling comfortable with its interface, prefer not to leave– because there is no need to – and join Google+.
Google+ v Facebook and Twitter:
What stated above about Google+ and Mixi does not apply to Japanese Twitter or Facebook, mainly because their members are already used to the kind of interface Google+ is also using, and therefore is would be more easy for them to move to Google+. Moreover, having Facebook Japan only 3 million users, and it’s fairly probable that they would like to try out Google+ or even to migrate to it. Another point in favor of Google+ is the issue of real name. Google+, as Facebook does, wants its members to use their real names, but it is more “relaxed” than Facebook. Facebook, when doubts over the name of a member, requires him to provide for an identity card to prove his identity; Google+, on the contrary, has a different policy, not forcing, at the moment, its members to use real names. Japanese people prefer to cover their identity while netsurfing, considering the anonymity a way to protect their privacy and to better express their inner feelings and opinions. Anonymity allows the Japanese internet users to escape from the conventionality imposed by the society. Therefore they chose social networks granting the anonymity, like local ones, Twitter and now Google+. The Japanese preference for anonymity led the internet users to use other social networks than Facebook and probably this will be an advantage for Google+ in the next future.
Google+ is a competitor more for Twitter – which in Japan has 10 million – than Facebook because Google+ has the same features as Twitter but in a better integrated way. In Google+ images and movie are better integrated and moreover there is no 140-letter limit.
Google+ is operating in the Japanese web since only four weeks, thus it is too early to say if it will pass Mixi or Twitter; surely it will be much more easy to pass Facebook and its only 3 million users.