Friendster vs. Mixi, U.S. vs. Japan

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After six months of invitations, I finally joined Mixi.jp this week. I had been a long-time dormant member of the American Friendster.com and felt no real need to be on two of these sites. Mixi, however, is primarily Japanese users (maybe 99%), and I thought it might be a useful sociological participatory exercise to dive in.

Even though the sites essentially have the same format and structure, there is a huge difference in user culture. The whole Mixi mode is obfuscation: fake pictures, fake registered names, misleading and ridiculous nicknames, cat pictures. What I liked about Friendster is that I could search for old middle-school summer camp friends and find them in less than a minute. With Mixi, I am constantly having to navigate contextual clues to figure out who’s who in my own peer group. And the nature of Japanese input makes name searches very difficult.

Mixi does indeed take the form of the stereotypical Japanese social unit — small circles only accessible through invitation and unapproachable from the outside. Either that or the Japanese just don’t trust the Internet and who may be lurking upon it. I saw some of my friends on Friendster start going towards fake names last year, but in the early days of 2003 or so, everyone from the Lower East Side was pretty much on there as themselves. There was a bit of clique-y-ness, but it was way more penetrable through casual browsing. Just finding people you know on Mixi is like trying to reverse engineer PURPLE.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
February 11, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

15 Responses

  1. Rafael Says:

    I wholeheartedly disagree with your point of view.

    First, Friendster is a bit dead these days because it was kind of buggy and most of the people over there have migrated to Myspace.com, which is still very active. And I can tell that the majority of people on Myspace is American, and a great part of them there do exactly what you describe as a very ‘Japanese’ thing for the Japanese people on Mixi to do: they put up fake pictures, fake registered names, misleading and ridiculous nicknames, cat pictures… I think that these days, people on social networking sites are much aware that it’s also possible to put on a mask while online, for either privacy or just for fun.

    Things that make me prefer Mixi over Friendster/Myspace: I recently moved to Sydney and the other day I just met this Japanese artist who lives here and is also on Mixi. He told me that a lot of Japanese artists are networking with each other through Mixi. He also said that when he goes back to Japan for a short trip, he will be meeting a lot of these artists and musicians who are on Mixi. I noticed that Mixi is a lot more arty that either Myspace or Friendster, and I find my list of friends there much more interesting than on the two American websites. And I also noticed that the Japanese people don’t add you as friend just so they can have 300 online friends or more. On the other hand, Friendster and Myspace are full of the called ‘friends whores’. And when people on Mixi add you, they tend pay more attention to you, like for example, send you messages, comment on your blog entries, etc. Surely not the case on Friendster and Myspace, where they just add you and that’s the end of the story.

  2. marxy Says:

    Interesting notes about Myspace.

    Well, the first time Americans had a chance to use one of these online community sites, they all used their real pictures and photos. Now, perhaps, there’s a move away from that, but it seems the natural American response was to not hide your identity but try to outdo your neighbor in “indie-rockness” through obscure music picks. (Mixi also lacks this.)

    Mixi is essentially the first widespread Japanese use of this technology, and I would say, a much similar group to who was using it in the US – semi-Bohemians of the art and tech world. (In Japan, the IT people are little less like hippies though.) And they went immediately to secretism.

    I don’t necessarily think Mixi is bad because of this, although my favorite thing about Friendster was reconnecting with old friends opposed to making new ones.

    There are some of those “friend whores” on Mixi. Whether your friends on Mixi are “more interesting” is a more of a subjective opinion.

    I don’t think the sites are perfect representations of society, but I think the natural behavior patterns do tend to create a specific organization.

  3. Momus Says:

    Friendster is still in beta after all these years and is still terribly buggy. Why does it always tell me I have 6 new messages, even when I’ve read them? Why did it tell me I could send a feed from my blog to my Friendster page, when, as far as I can see, I can’t? Why is it so clunky and slow? Sure, it felt hot and exciting in 2003 (I remember it being the main subject of conversation at parties that year), but since then it’s felt dead. It doesn’t move. It gets dusty. And half the people on Friendster who claim to be Japanese turn out to be Filippino or Malaysian, and most of their endorsements are these weird machine-generated text pictures.

    Mixi is currently as hot (for hipster Japanophile Westerners) as Friendster was two years ago. This entry, despite its negative tone, is part of the hype. I had considered doing a blog entry about Mixi, but decided I actually don’t want any more gaijin on there. I want it just to be me and the Japanese! I like how they’re still really surprised to find a gaijin on there. My latest Mixi Friend request came from Ten-do-Ten, ex-Delaware, designer and musician (and just about to launch his own fashion line), who I consider to be Japan’s coolest man (after Eye Yamataka, who I’m sure is NOT on Mixi). Apart from the oodles of cool people, the thing that makes Mixi lively is its integration of journals, something Friendster doesn’t do (the bulletin board feature is not a journal, it’s more like classified ads, and the blogfeed doesn’t seem to work).

  4. marxy Says:

    I don’t use Friendster anymore, but I have to say I was impressed with it during its peak. Buggy interface yes, but amazing network of tons of people.

    Sorry for letting the Mixi bag out of the hat. Luckily it’s all in Japanese, so that most foreigners won’t bother to register etc.

    The rumor goes that a lot of real celebrities are hiding amongst the foot soldiers in Mixi, but who can really tell when your name is a joke and your picture’s a cat?

  5. erikhw Says:

    Maybe the (japanese)people on MIXI don’t want to be “found”? And maybe the fact that celebrities can “MIXI around” without being swamped with fanmail is part of the charm? And if you can’t find your friends when you search for them, why not send them an invitation or an email?

    I don’t read/speak japanese so it’s all greek to me, but I’m still on there anyway because my girlfriend wanted me to. So there I am, feeling blind and stupid in a sea of japanese, with my 2 “friends”. Japanese friends.

    It is japanese, it is different, but the “cryptic anonymity factor” doen’s strike me as anything negative, but I guess if you’re used to something else…

    But what the f*** is up with all the cat pictures?!

  6. Chris_B Says:

    I dont use any of those sites so I cant comment on that, but I’d like to mention that PURPLE was in and of itself a cypher not a code (although the plaintext messages themselves were often codes). Sorry to be a stickler but you hit one of my sore spots. In any case, points for the semi-obscure history reference. If you are interested in a first hand account of how PURPLE was broken, check out The Story of Magic by Frank B. Rowlett.

  7. marxy Says:

    I’d like to mention that PURPLE was in and of itself a cypher not a code (although the plaintext messages themselves were often codes.

    Ha ha. Yeah, I’m no expert. I only know about these things because my dad was a NSA codebreaker at one point.

  8. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    OK, だらか、mixi招待してもらいませんか?

    I once met a Japanese woman who was doing a Ph.D. on the colour GREEN.

  9. Jeff Belengazi Says:

    Mixi is invite only; would any existing member be willing to send me an invite?? Please…

    Jaff

  10. marxy Says:

    Ah, Momus: it’s happening! The foreigners want on!

  11. Chris_B Says:

    sparklingbeatnic: PURPLE was the US military reference code word for the Japanese diplomatic encryption system in the time leading up to WW II. “RED” was the code word for the Japanese Imperial Navy encryption system. The systems had no formal names inside Japan that I know of. The PURPLE machine was known only as 暗号機2号.

    Put oversimply, a code is a set of pre agreed words which have other meanings whereas a cypher is a substituion system which operates on the component level of a message.

    “Red skys at night” might be a code meaning “buy 200 shares of NTT” whereas the same thing in a simple cypher could be
    2 21 25 0 2
    0 0 19 8 1
    18 5 19 0 15
    6 0 14 20 20
    where each letter is substituted with its ordered number in the alphabet, spaces being zero and 1-9 remaining the same. Anyways go read Rowlett’s book or Simon Singh’s “The Code Book”.

  12. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Guess I’m going to have to starting using emoticons to indicate humour ;-).

    I’ve heard Simon Singh’s stuff is pretty good, generally, and I recently met one of his former classmates who vouched that he is thoroughly nice guy.

    As for the code/cypher line I read Andrew Hodges biography of Alan Turing many years ago. Highly recommend it. The play version of his life is also quite good. I’ve read the script but not seen it myself.

    Cheers,

  13. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    p.s. from what little i know i advise not buying those ntt shares. ;-)

  14. Chris_B Says:

    Personally I wouldnt invest in ANY shares in Japan….

  15. michi Says:

    I wish there would be sites like mixi in english. No really! I found out about mixi from my japanese friend while i was on myspace (the place i recurringly delete my profile because i hate the american way). i’m sick of myspace and friendster-like sites where everyone’s goal is to add as many people as you can… and i especially hate when old friends are too busy with THAT than actually messaging you back! grrrr

    aside from all that: i can’t use mixi because i don’t know japanese and don’t have any japanese viewing thing on my computer… so yah. sucks for me. =-P