Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Case Study: Ameba

The Washington Post’s Blaine Harden describes Japan as having gone “blog wild” with Japan coming in third in blogging-happy countries. Despite being third they continue to recreate what it means to blog. The deep rooted love for documenting the passage of time combined with interest based social networking sites and increasing mobility makes Japan one of the front-runners in creating a unique blogging experience. Due to its ability to capitalize on these factors, Ameba combines this trifecta with its promotion of popular culture and has become one of the most popular blogging sites in Japan.

In the article “Japan’s Bloggers: Humble Giants of the Web”, Blaine Harden sums up why blogging has been taken up by the majority of the Japanese public. Keeping written narratives when in school was a norm and now they blog often, and anonymously. Not wanting to cause tension with any readers they don’t openly blog on controversial subjects such as politics but stick to topics they have interest in like food, cats and celebrities.

Harden attributes three technologies that create an ideal environment for blogging: sophisticated mobile phones, high-speed Internet and commuter time. According to the Singapore Management University, 74 percent of Japanese mobile users access the Internet via mobile phone. With the introduction of smartphones that number has only risen. From September 2010 to March 2011 there has been an increase of 71 percent of people who now own and use smartphones. The graph to right shows the top smartphone-based activities of Japan. With microblogs and personal blogs being the top two.
 
Ameba, is a free blog host that allows you to connect to other like-minded bloggers by shared interests. Using tools such as “My Group” you can search by keyword and once in a group, members can post topics that create a stage for conversation. This is a completely customizable environment where you can choose from who you follow to various privacy settings. It also comes with sub-sites such as Ameba Now and the hugely successful Ameba Pigg. 

"Welcome to Ameba Pigg"
While Ameba Now was created in 2006 to compete with Twitter’s micro-blogging platform it’s success pales in comparison to Ameba Pigg. This MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) lets you create a avatar so you can interact with other players in a friendly environment. With popular activities like shopping and cafe going it highlights the group-centered culture of Japan. Using money you get in the game from making friends, fishing, or going to the casino you can buy new furniture, clothes, and accessories to individualize yourself. And if you’re feeling specially grateful, you can also purchase gifts for friends. If you don’t feel like taking the time to work your way to riches, you can get credits in the game by using actual money. Ameba is successfully capitalizing on Japan’s social inclinations of kindness, gift-giving, and group-centered online activity by creating a world that mimics the real action of participating in events based on shared interests regardless of proximity. What makes them most successful though, is their use of promotion to get their brand name out there.

Ameba works closely with idols in popular culture such as actors and musicians to best profit from interest-based social networking. Ameba is the official host of Japan’s most famous idols, from singer Ayumi Hamasaki to rock band the GazettE. Using collaborations they set up special rooms where fans can gather and interact with one another. This recent article goes into detail about a recent collaboration with a rock band called Alice Nine. During the time, Ameba Pigg offered virtual band goods, costumes and wigs, and even went as far as having a lottery that would entitle someone to be able to live-chat with one of the members. The catch being, all of this is available for purchase with real money, and it can get expensive.

James Curran outlines the connections to the ideals behind Ameba and other social networking sites. In his book “Misunderstanding the Internet” being able to separate their real life and online life by way of anonymity is key. Due to high stress from school and work paired with continuous connection to the Internet via their phone, it “provides students with a sense of personal space” and lets them escape to “their own world”.4 But while participating in a group, the need to retain individualism is still there and “ultimately, the creative promotion of self, is argued to gain importance”, which explains how one can put hundreds of dollars to customize their blog and avatar on Ameba Pigg. This gravitation to entertainment and self-promotion on the web is natural and we opt news for entertainment that makes us feel good about ourselves.

Blogging is not without problems. Blaine Harden points out slacktivism has taken hold of Japan and even though “the Japanese are about five times as likely as Americans, the British or the French to read a blog every week” they are less likely to act. Because of blogging and microblogging, Curran states “we have a sense that we are participating in something that is going on out there”, when really, we are a tiny voice among many.

Ameba is tailor made for popularity in the Japanese culture where high Internet speeds and accessibility to the web is readily available and by connecting us on shared interests and anonymity it makes an environment that is group-centered that is enhanced by commercial promotions. With rising questions about slacktivism and its affect on real action we need to be aware of out interactions with the Internet. But the need to connect is hardwired into us and whether we come together based on our love for volunteer work or delicate pastries our relationship with the Internet is a unique two way street.

**For a closer look into social media's integration with Japanese life check out this video that was shown at "Social Media Summit in Kansai 2012".
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1. Harden, Blaine. "Japan's Bloggers: Humble Giants of the Web." The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 06 Dec. 2007. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
2. "Digital Media in Japan." Singapore Management University. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.
3. "Alice Nine and Ameba Pigg Team Up for Digital Merchandise, Fan Lottery, Live Chat." Shattered Tranquility. Shattered Tranquility, Web. 23 Mar.    2013.
4. Curran, James, Natalie Fenton, and Des Freedman. Misunderstanding the Internet. London: Routledge, 2012. Print.

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