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Human powered search August 15, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japanese, TechCrunch, technology.

Techcrunch had an article about question and answer services yesterday. (the article was actually about the Israeli service called Yedda)

In the article, it lists other players in the same sector like Yahoo Answers, Wondir, Google Answers and Oyogi. Which is all well and good, I’m sure Techcrunch readers are always keen on hearing about the latest products and ideas.


Given that they have a “Japanese Editorial Team” and publish the content in Japanese (the article above is available in Japanese here), I wonder if they can’t start actually editing the article at least in the Japanese version to reflect the fact that there are domestic human powered search services in Japan too. Actually, I think overseas readers (and entrepreneurs) would be very interested to see what goes on here.
Indeed, there is a company which has had an IPO on the back of their human powered search service (and its expansion into servicing FAQ type pages for corporate clients, which is along the same technical lines). The company is called OKWave and IPO’d in June of this year (admittedly on the relatively minor Nagoya Stock Exchange’s Centrex emerging markets exchange), and is currently valued at a little over JPY8Billion. It’s done more than 9.5 million Q&As and has more than half a million registered users. Just in Japanese. OK, so listing requirements are less strict here compared to NASDAQ, but if you want to see some non-Google/MSFT/Yahoo/Amazon/Ebay/Fox exit models for “Web 2.0” businesses (or even more mundane internet businesses like advertising, SEO, or on-line vertical B2B marketplaces – all of which have seen IPOs in the current year. And we have the SNS IPO coming next month), Japan is not a bad place to start.

Then there is hatena, another interesting company which offers very “Web2.0”-y applications including human powered search, a social bookmarking service, blog hosting and much more besides (they have a portfolio of 13 different web based services, and the company has less than two dozen employees – this company is about as close to the SV IT startup model as you might find in Japan). They even set up an office in SV last month (press release) which I think was an excuse for the CEO to see how things work on the ground across the pond. 🙂

Yahoo! Japan also has a Q&A service, but that is lagging behind with less than 90,000 queries posted.

Going back to my bitching about lack of exposure of Japanese businesses (short of Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Sony, Matsushita, Canon, Sharp and the rest of the multi-billion dollar set), Business 2.0 had a piece about global Web2.0 sites. The number of Japanese Web2.0 sites profiled? Zero.

Of course, part of the problem is that most Japanese services are just in Japanese. Yes, it is in no small part due to the language barrier as well. I’d also say that many of the entrepreneurs are less marketing and promotion savvy here, compared to the US. We aren’t doing a good enough job of telling the world what our small innovative companies are up to.

I would plead guilty as charged on that count, I am pretty conservative about profiling Japanese companies, especially in the internet sector, mainly because they are all too often rip-offs of US/overseas ideas. However, if they can take a clone and make a business out of it, they deserve credit, IMO. Of course, if an overseas business can ramp quickly and internationalize and localize with sufficient speed, and take advantage of network scaling effects, clones should no chance. But the reality is that different markets sometimes have differing needs, and building a truely universal product is often an elusive task.



1. quinn - August 15, 2006

Hi fukumimi san,
I suppose you know hatena is wanting to do more outside of Japan. I have a feeling that they would be the first one to change this kind of tendencies or whatever it is..

Another company just launched web service in English, but I am not sure about this one is kicking off any of the competitors.

2. fukumimi - August 16, 2006


Yes, I do know that hatena is looking to become more international. It will be interesting to see if they can build up a presence in SV. Doing business over there is in some respects significantly different from doing business in Japan.

That they have built up a wide portfolio of Web2.0 tools is impressive, but critics would argue that they haven’t really innovated, that mostly they’ve just produced localised versions of concepts born elsewhere.

More importanly perhaps, the apparently lack of focus in their lineup may be seen as a weakness. It’s difficult to build a real business on a set of lightweight tools. I would say in their defense that they are probably experimenting and trying to find _the_ killer app. Clearly they are a fast moving company, and in the Japanese environment, that is still a big differentiator. However, in the big wide world, there is plenty of competition from other fast moving, ambitious companies.

As far as Unoh’s Photozou english language version is concerned, I think it is an exercise in raising international exposure. Basically a Flickr/Photobucket clone, and similar sites are dime a dozen. Do they have what it takes to stand out from the crowd? Only time will tell, but I personally don’t see a huge exit there. I’ve had a look around Photozou but didn’t see anything that would make me switch from Flickr, for example. And remember, Flickr was acquired for less than $50M. OK, an IPO exit would see a higher valuation, but the whole area still feels like features rather than businesses. Of course, if you can get to IPO you could probably buy other features and build a more diversified business, but they you will be battling the big boys. Unoh does have a couple of other sites, which are probably a lot easier to extract sales and advertising revenue from (DVD Seikatu and Eiga Seikatu, respectively. Basically an on-line DVD store and a movie community), but again these businesses are in pretty competitive areas.

3. TechCrunch UK launched….. « from the inside, looking in - August 29, 2006

[…] Maybe my feed doesn’t allow me access to that content. Am I persona non grata chez TechCrunch for pointing out the obvious and asking for more disclosure? (see my previous posts 1,2,3) […]

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