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Interesting graphics/animation tech July 31, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japan.
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New start-up in Japan called Motion Portrait (incorporated just earlier this month), out of Sony’s R&D labs.

Their technology demo is the photo at top-right of the home page. More demos at the bottom of this page. More information here (PDF in English courtesy of MP’s distributor).

A quick and easy way to create avatars (not only from photos, works also with cartoons/anime, even with animals) which can express emotional expression, the company provides several potential uses in a B2C environment as well, targetting potential users such as on-line spectacles/glasses sites, cosmetics, hair products, etc.

Currently funded entirely by So-net Capital Partners.

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Google Open Day July 27, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan.
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Yesterday I went down to Google Japan’s HQ in Shibuya for their Open Day (open evening. whatever).

To be perfectly honest, the whole thing was a bit of a disappointment. For anyone who follows GOOG, there really was nothing new. The talks lacked spontaneity, and came across as carefully scripted.

It seems pretty much the same pitch (or portions thereof)  as was given to Businessweek for their fluff piece, and I have to admit I had the same impression of the pitch as Valleywag. Repeating “we are really humble” like a mantra isn’t going to convince anyone who can think for themselves.

Last night, some apparently important marketing guy (I think he was they guy introduced as being “one of the busiest guys at GOOG”, and they even shared his recent travel schedule with us. Are we meant to be in awe of some guy because he racks up the air miles? Or grateful that he has found time in his ultra-busy schedule to speak us?) from HQ just decided to read from slides.  I found that to be borderline offensive. I think most of us can actually read. Does GOOG really want people who made an effort to turn up to the event to feel that their guys can’t be bothered to make an effort for the audience?

There was minimal discussion of what GOOG is trying to do specifically in the local market. They made a point up front about how they have more than half the world’s market share in search. Conveniently they neglected to mention that in Japan, they are lagging. They are making ground quickly, granted. If the company was really humble, they’d specifically acknowledge their position in the local market. And whilst there was a push in the presentation to drive home the point that users begetting users, and this being increasingly important to drive growth (viral marketing, network effects, etc etc), the marketing pitch lacked a genuine attempt at outreach.

Facta non verba.

Even more disappointing than the fluffy presentations were the questions from the floor. The first guy up introduced himself as a marcom guy from MSFT who, in what I though was a fairly aggressive/pointed manner for a guest, asked something along the lines of “what do you (GOOG) think is the best marcom strategy?”. Which was answered (or not) with some typical fluff response which was equally unnoteworthy. And it pretty much went downhill from there. I think the questions asked showed GOOG that the people asking the questions were not GOOG material, so I guess the event served some purpose (maybe not for marcom, but rather for HR…). It also felt like some of the Googlers were getting a little bit defensive at some of the questions. Maybe they expected a load of fanboys who would gush praise and give them an ego boost. What they actually got were people who were either agnostic or even antagonistic. I guess the silent majority may have been fanboys, difficult to tell. There was a pretty edgy vibe in the room, I thought.

It was almost as if the Googlers couldn’t understand why the audience weren’t lapping up the kool-aid.

If they are as good at “innovating” and “learning from mistakes” as they claim to be, their humility should allow them to acknowledge that they have a huge amount of work to do in the marcom area in Japan, and they’ll learn from last night. Just plying guests with free food and booze does not guarantee a friendly audience. (It does increase the likelihood of people dozing off during the talks, however….)

The several people I have had the pleasure to meet from GOOG (both Mountain View and in Japan) in the past have been bright, amicable guys, and their affiliations with GOOG reflected well on the company. To be honest I’m not sure I could say the same for everyone who was representing GOOG last night. There were some decent performers there, for sure, but also some stuff which was distinctly average. Average results really aren’t good enough if you claim to only hire the best and brightest.

One thing that did come across was the joyful glow of the local Googlers. These people certainly seem happy at working at GOOG. It certainly is a big difference from the typical Japanese corporate environment.

Perhaps I’ve been a bit harsh on GOOG in this post as I find many of these type of events rather lacking, being immersed in the bleeding edge of this sector, day in, day out. Still, if you talk the talk, you have to expect people to look very closely at your claims.  They have a huge pool of engineering talent to draw upon, and I sincerely wish them all the best in delivering new solutions to us. That is the surest way to win the hearts of the user base.

[To the Google marcom/PR team’s credit, they seem to have done a good job at winning the hearts of the local press, who certainly come across as fanboys and report each minor Google related news item with fervour. It certainly is a relatively cheap and extremely effective way to gain exposure, especially in Japan where journalism appears to be a concept alien to much of the media]

I repeat:

Facta non verba.

MiiStation chosen as one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Websites for 2007 July 18, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Media.
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Congratulations to Matt and team.

When MiiStation.com launched and got Dugg (and also mentioned in the WSJ), there were some people who were sceptical of the service, but I think this is a good example of a service which caters to the less technical savvy (and/or lazy) users who actually comprise the bulk of people on-line.

Matt and friends have recently launched another site, 2kurabe.com, which is basically a Wii Vote channel for the web (including a widget to allow you to add the app to your blog).

Matt, can we expect a Facebook app version? Integration with something like MyBlogLog or similar would also be interesting….

Beyond the casual entertainment value, this type of app which can be used to profile users would be complimentary to other services which attempt to deliver targetted content or advertising….

iPhone’s global expansion July 5, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Economy & Business, Internet, Japan.
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The BBC reports that O2 is close to signing an exclusive deal for the iPhone rights in the UK. No news on whether it will be crappy GSM or 3G.

This is a change from earlier reports which suggested Vodafone was the front runner.

We shall see.

But if it does turn out that O2 does get the iPhone, that is sure to spark speculation as to the impact that has on the likely Japanese partner. All 3 major Japanese carriers have expressed interest. O2 is owned by Telefonica, which has strong ties to NTT DoCoMo. (O2 and Telefonica are part of the i-mode alliance)

But DoCoMo and Apple don’t feel like natural partners.

DoCoMo also has Napster under its wings, and I suspect that Apple will almost certainly insist that that has to go.

au(KDDI) also has its LISMO music service, which would also conflict with iTunes. I think KDDI has spent a lot more money promoting LISMO than DoCoMo has Napster.

In any case,will either be willing to cut loose the user base of its existing music services (for what they are worth)?

Softbank is leveraged to the hilt and whilst Son-san would no doubt like to partner with Apple, can they afford it if it became a bidding war against the big two? I’m sure the creditors won’t be too keen on taking that particular gamble. That said, Yahoo! Japan, which is part of the Softbank group, has a commercial tie-up with iTunes….

Here’s a totally crazy idea. What about emobile, the data only 3G carrier? Voice services using software VoIP. Apple would certainly have the upper hand in that relationship, and could have a go at running a mobile carrier through its partner. For one thing, it would have the only voice capable device on the network!

But then, the iPhone would probably look anorexic and grainy next to a 4.1″ 800×400 WVGA screen (Sharp EM ONE) which has a touchscreen (albeit not a multitouch one) AND a proper keyboard. Admittedly the Sharp is pretty heavy.

Even so, if I were Apple, I’d give the upstart some serious consideration. (I could also point them to a bargain solution to handle the voice infrastructure part, too. Although I do hear emobile are working on something themselves…)

From a purely technical perspective, it would seem from Apple’s tie-up with at&t that a 3G device if and when released would go down the UMTS route, pointing to DoCoMo/Softbank/emobile as more likely candidates than au(KDDI).

Of course, I’m one of the sceptics with regards to iPhone’s potential fortunes in Japan. Can (non-smartphone) users embrace the fact that the iPhone will need both hands to operate? I’m not so sure. Width apparently is a more important dimension than thickness for most Japanese. Length is apparently not an issue. Most collapse into a compact size when not in use. No sniggering at the back. We are talking phones.

The fact that the generic 10key is highly compatible with the Japanese alphabet means that semi-blind touch typing in Japanese is easy on a phone (many older people who have difficulty with a PC seem fine with using the phone interface, based on casual research observing people on the trains and elsewhere – using text messaging on the phone is certainly not limited to young people and businessmen here in Japan).

Without tactile feedback, that is going to be more difficult. (And I certainly don’t want to be on the same road as some idiot trying to type on an iPhone whilst driving. It is bad enough with a one-hand typist driver. Both are equally illegal, of course, but two hands on the iPhone means no hands on the wheel, which I suggest is a little more dangerous than just one hand on the wheel)

Also, the auto-correction and auto-completion techniques which are apparently well received in the US are not sufficient as is for the Japanese language. Predictive suggestions fill half the screen on my 3″ screen phone when I type a message, I can’t see how that will be compatible with typing on the same screen if I actually want to see some of the message I am composing. Well, actually, I can. It will work in the same way as pressing the space bar on a real keyboard with a Japanese IME installed, which calls up the list of choices. The virtual qwerty disappears and the list appears in its place. Once a choice is made, or the user hits a back key, the virtual keyboard will reappear. Anyway, I digress. The point is that I suspect there will be some additional challenges involved.

Of course, if Apple aren’t in a hurry to release an iPhone with a 3G chipset, the whole question is a non-starter.

[I guess there is another player on the scene, Willcom, the PHS network, if Apple really didn’t want any 3G phones which might be un-locked and exported…..]

Fastladder July 5, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japan.
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Livedoor is attempting to go global with its new Fastladder RSS reader, which is basically a repackaged version of its existing Livedoor Reader for the local market.

It is basically a generic on-line feedreader. I noticed that OPML imports were slower than on some other on-line feedreaders I’ve imported my OPML files to in the past, perhaps because Fastladder doesn’t yet have much of a following yet and hasn’t got the relevant feeds cached.

Apart from the amusement factor of the uncomfortable English on show, the only slightly interesting point is that they show how many other Fastladder users have subscription to each of your subscribed feeds (social bookmarking of feeds).

Not sure there is enough here to make a huge impact on the already crowded landscape.

iTouch sold for $191M July 4, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Internet, Japan, Mobile.
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Just a few months after For-Side.com sold its iTouch subsidiary (apparently for around $100M, and not GBP33M as I saw quoted elsewhere) to a group led by iTouch’s ex-CEO, iTouch has been flipped to the Italian mobile content firm Buongiorno for $191M.

$91M in 4 months isn’t bad.

But it does beg the question, did For-Side.com’s executives shop the deal around sufficiently to get the best price, as they would be expected to do by their shareholders?

Yahoo! Japan, the most viewed site in the world June 26, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan.
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Netratings have published Japan PV and user numbers for May 2007, and Yahoo! Japan again comes top with 31.8B pageviews/month. Yahoo! Japan has retained the top spot for 85 months, since the first Japanese statistics were compiled in April 2000.

Uniques for Yahoo! Japan have surpassed 40 million for the first time ever, and reach is estimated at a staggering 88%.

y/y growth provides solace for Google, which is up 58% which appears to be poised to rise to #2 web property in Japan imminently. Google is currently behind Rakuten (25.8M users), NTT Communications(24.5M) and Microsoft(24.3M) at 23.8M users, but competitors are showing negligible growth (2~3% y/y) or in the case of Microsoft, a decline (-6%y/y). The domestic total internet user base grew 8% last year, so the #2~4 players’ reach has actually declined. Yahoo! Japan showed 10% growth in y/y user numbers.

Yahoo! Japan’s 31.8B pv/mth figure puts it (just) ahead of the most viewed site in the US, which is the original Yahoo! at 31.6B pv/mth. When you consider that Y! Japan, because of the Japanese language nature draws its user base almost exclusively from the Japanese internet population which is approximately 1/3 that of the US, and Yahoo! US has greater overseas exposure on top of its larger domestic base because its content is in English, the lingua franca of the global internet, the page view numbers are even more impressive.

Japanese video content copyright changes in the works? May 28, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan, Media.
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I’ve seen some channels (also here, and here for example, all based on this article) picking up the fact that the Intellectual Property Rights Policy Work Group is set to recommend that video content distribution over the internet be made easier to manage. Currently (legal) internet distribution of such content requires that the distributor get permission from all rights holders associated with the content. The rules for broadcasters is less strict, and the proposal seems to be an attempt to apply the TV broadcaster rules to the internet.

This is part of a drive by the Japanese government to try to make the Japanese content business a global business (and also to drive money and budgets to pet projects which can be claimed to be required to achieve this goal, of course).

Seems pretty attractive on the surface. However, this isn’t really new news. This is the Nikkei’s article regarding this year’s “progress”, and this is last year’s. The plans seem to be virtually the same, which shows that no progress was made last year.

Part of the problem, as the Variety article sort of alludes to, is the structure of showbusiness in Japan, where large, powerful, well connected (to both political, legitimate and less-than-legitimate businesses) “talent” agencies hold a lot of power. These are the groups like Yoshimoto Kogyo, Horipro, Ken-on, Johnny&Associates, etc, etc. (though in fact these agencies are far from difficult to track down, rather they are jealous of their assets and often refuse to give the required permissions which results in stalled efforts to redistribute content. Even for TV broadcasters, who may theoretically be able to just broadcast and pay roylaties later, would not dare going against the wishes of the agencies for whom they rely on “talent” to populate their programming. It would seem from the content aired on Japanese TV, the industry is totally reliant on pretty faces (around which a cross-media marketing blitz is executed) to get ratings. It certainly isn’t the quality of acting or wit)

All the more interesting to see that the working group doesn’t have a single representative from these agencies, but several representatives from broadcasters and content distributors. (see the list of representatives on P17 of this report)

I smell a political tug-of-war, with broadcasters and internet channels on one side trying to change the current status quo where talent agencies have huge amounts of power.

In any case, whilst the WG proposes that:

[..] Internet distribs of previously broadcast TV shows will no longer need to get permissions from all rights holders, as is currently required. Instead they will only have to ensure royalty payments to all rights holders following webcasts of the shows.

this statement requires careful reading. It doesn’t necessarily mean distributors will no longer need to get permissions from rights holders, this could be interpreted that distributors won’t need to get permissions from ALL rights holders, every one last one of them – especially the really difficult to track down rights holders who are no longer in the business or were not credited in the original material.

I can’t see the slave masters talent agencies giving up their grip on the entertainment industry that easily. The talent agencies (Yoshimoto and AVEX notably) are beginning to do their own thing with regards to internet content, and the broadcasters and film distributors (who are also embracing their own closed version of internet broadcasting) don’t want to miss out on the party.

A working group with heavy representation from the broadcaster set would naturally want new regulations which would allow them to use content without permissions from the agencies who they might be in direct competition with for the re-run internet VOD programming. (It is unlikely that agencies would shift wholesale to the internet, at least in the short term, as TV ad revenues are still very lucrative)

I predict that this tug-of-war will continue beneath the surface for a while.

Google/Feedburner May 24, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan, Media.
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With the Google’s Feedburner purchase looking like a done deal, I wonder what that means for Feedburner.jp, which is currently being run by GMO Ad Networks.

As the Jp specific stats were never broken out, it is difficult to determine how much traction the Japanese service has been able to gain, but in any case, I would think that Google will review the arrangement.
There doesn’t seem to be much justification for allowing GMO Ad Networks to retain the current arrangement, I’m sure Google will want to try to get more penetration for Feedburner in Japan, either through their own efforts or by expanding the number of agencies which are incentivised to promote the service, and GMO Ad Networks will just be one of many agencies helping to spread the word at best.

I guess this is the kind of risk one faces when one relies on 3rd party technology platforms for your business, especially in a space where acquisitions are far from unforseeable.

Mixi tops 10 million users May 21, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Internet, Japan.
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Mixi announced today that as of the 20th, it has topped 10 million users.

Stats breakdown

  • Gender(PC users)
    Male:47.9%
    Female:52.1%
  • Gender(mobile users)
    Male:43.4%
    Femal:56.6%
  • Age(PC)
    18~19:9.7%
    20~24:33.8%
    25~29:24.7%
    30~34:16.4%
    35~39:8.1%
    40~44:3.7%
    45~49:1.9%
    50+:1.6%
  • Age(Mobile)
    18~19:15.7%
    20~24:42.4%
    25~29:21.8%
    30~34:11.6%
    35~39:5.0%
    40~44:2.1%
    45~49:0.9%
    50+:0.5%

4% of PC users are accessing from outside Japan according to Mixi.

Of course these are registered user numbers, which suffers from things like multiple ids, also seeing a lot more (mostly short-lived) ids being used to promote various sites and schemes, lots more cat and mouse games between the site moderators and people trying to exploit the system.