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.