Looking for the pulse of Japan's Business SNS Scene at Softbank, Yahoo, and more...

Nothing like the slowdown over new years to spend some time digging around the net (.. as if I didn't spend enough time doing that anyway!).

I've been looking at the Business SNS Scene in Japan, signing up and kicking the tyres for a few weeks.  The lights are on, but is anyone home?

1) SBI Business ( by Softbank - www.sbirobo.com )

Started: 2008-01

Membership: 70,000 (Registered Users - 2008-10-03 - some stats )

Very faint praise, but this was the best looking construction of the bunch...  Until you see through the thin veneer and reach their content - or rather their confusing repurposing of various SBI APIs....

SBI Business list the most often accessed profile pages on the top of their site.  Last month's top two were Takahashi Eriko - http://www.sbibusiness.com/pub/819570841 - who promotes "Work at Home Businesses" and Hirohisa Tokuo - http://www.sbibusiness.com/pub/090941180 - a 60 year old insurance agent from Saitama who apparently has found a loving god to lead mankind, and wants to pass the message on.  Further down the top ten are several SBI execs., so I guess the SBI Robo team know who butters their bread!

Dive deeper in to the site and ... hit your head! 

  • "Job Search/Recruiting" leads directly to E-Career (Softbank Human Capital) listings
  • "News" is a slow, ugly and broken RSS client.
  • "Search" allows you to search Live.com, Yahoo! Japan, Wikipedia, and several SBI Finance data sources from one inconvenient location.

There are no groups/communities, so what is there to do?  Well ... SBI suggest that I connect with some people selected by their matching system, and helpfully links me to 371 other people working in "Internet" and 187 who are "Managers"... Hmmm - next click show that there are actually 465 of these people.... and my sole option is to page through them 10 at a time!

Update: As of last week, you can now set up your blog's RSS to appear in your profile page.

Marks out of 10: 4

2) CU Yahoo! (Yahoo! Japan)

Started: 2008-07

Membership: 6000 (?)

While still in "beta" (I hear it's all the rage), Yahoo! Japan launching an SNS should turn some heads.  Well.. one look at CU and they might just turn away again.  I don't know if they were short on cash, but this looks like something slapped up in a weekend with OpenPNE (an open source PHP powered SBS).  Ugly as sin, at least they have communities.  However, even if I didn't have to avert my eyes to use the thing, having to log in 3 times - in mid-session - this afternoon (and yes, I do have "keep me logged in" checked) all got a bit tiring.

Additionally, they did throw in a mostly unusable calendar ... which does list your "connections" birthdays.

Note to self - keep it simple .. but at least make it look half way decent (and make your persistence persistent!).

Marks out of 10: 2


3) Career Connection (Globalway

Started:  2007-02

Membership: ??

Tried out this just today.  Posted a message to their "Business SNS" community, but it didn't show up.. the confirmation screen for the message actually showed a different community!  Later I tried to add a photo to my profile, and got repeated "500 Server Exception" errors.

Marks out of 10: 2

4) Bizzo.jp (Adways)

Started: 2007-05(?)

Membership: ??

Bizzo looks like it was based on a similar package as Career Connection, but I have not experienced any of the bugs I did with the above site.  They have a feature called "Relay Mail" which is an interesting twist on the social thing... this allows you to mail a contact to ask them to introduce a user one step further removed.  Additionally, they will suggest a path you may use to reach any given user - up to a third degree away.  Subtly pressuring your contacts to introduce you could be a good way of separating the wheat from the chaff...

Again the design is a little old, but not as hard on the eyes as CU.

Marks out of 10: 6

5) X-Shibuya (Greater Shibuya Area Creator Matching LLP

Started: 2006-07

Membership: 3500

X-Shibuya was started by the Shibuya chapter of the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce, as a geographically specific SNS to match creators and businesses that use them.  They are behind the Web 2008 Expo event that was held in Shibuya at the beginning of last month.

They launched in 2006 with backing from companies such as Takara Tomy, Total Brain and Otsuka Shokai, and by November that year they had 2600 members.  Figures from last year state 3000, so i wouldn't class their growth as "strong" :)  To quote myself ...

Although they claim to have 3500 members (up from 2600 in Nov 2006), it's a little hard to see if this SNS is alive or dead, as you cannot see anything without logging in, and can't sign up without an invitation. The fact that their magazine site has not been updated since 2006, their press release section since 2007, and the link to the more information PDF is broken does not lend much confidence.

Well... I have since had an invitation, and duly applied to join.  That was 2 weeks ago ... perhaps they are in hibernation.

Marks out of 10:  0 for the site - 7 for the event

6) Wizli - (Race)

Started: ??

Membership: ??

Wizli is a Business SNS for "High Class Businesspeople" - managers and executives in the 25-35 year range.  This site is run be go-getter head hunters  Race - and is also invite only, and I am awaiting approval here.   I will follow up with a further post detailing what happens here.

So there is a taste of what's going on in the Japanese Business SNS world.  In a word - not a lot (well that's three words...)   Does the pervasive opaqueness of Japanese society mean that there is simply no market is Japan for  a decent Business SNS?  Or is the poor execution of the incumbents leaving the market wide open for one?   The popularity of indirect contact through "footsteps" - visitor tracking made popular by mixi - and the Relay Mail idea are hints that there is the potential for cultural foibles to be circumvented with the right combination of features to keep users interested and coming back.

I'll fill in some of the blanks here, and post more on the scene as I learn more... please feel free to chime in with mail or comments and let us know your experiences with Japan's Business SNSes.

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Serkan's Gravatar Very informative post.

Well, LinkedIn is in talks with Digital Garage to launch a Japanese version over here. I hear they have close to 100,000 Japanese members.

But then again, negotiations began officially in September 2007 (!). Also, LinkedIn has vowed to launch a German version for years and years now (they never did) so it would surprise me to see any movement there in the near future.

I think the major problem is the "openness" that's required to make a business SNS work: I don't see too many salary men and women showing their profile picture, employment data, private data and future job plans online.
# Posted By Serkan | 1/4/09 1:07 AM
Rob Cawte's Gravatar Yes... Chamath Palihapitiya - VP From Facebook was along at Digital Garage's New Context Conference, and plainly admitted that Facebook "Does not have a business model for Japan" - due to the opaque interaction style (...it is called "Face-book" after all!). I'd say that with mixi and gree having cracked the nut for Japanese consumer SNSes, there will probably be someone who can come along and provide the right mix of indirect communication, isolation of private and business networks, and ease of use to make a successful site in the Business market.
# Posted By Rob Cawte | 1/4/09 8:54 AM
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