I wire this on my way home from 9 days in Hong Kong and Japan. It was a great trip, partly because I love traveling to Asia. It also is a chance to get exposure to some very different markets and trends than I usually deal with when talking with EMEA and North American customers. I can’t presume to be an authority on the region on the basis of this one trip, but I did glean these trends from conversations with vendors and customers at the Japan conference.
Japanese companies are very interested in social software technologies, why companies are deploying them, and the benefits they expect to achieve. Comparatively few have active deployments, but the curiosity and level of interest is quite high. Many of the questions and concerns are predictably about security, governance, control and business benefits. In the consensus-driven culture of many Japanese companies, free-wheeling social software sites sound strange and chaotic.
Familiarity with social software concepts is quite high through consumer services. Facebook, Myspace and LinkedIn haven’t made much impact in Japan but mixi and many mobile phone-based communities have already become an important part of people’s lives.
Twitter, inevitably, also came up often.The whole concept seemed strange to many of the people I talk to, even more so than usual. When someone explained that it is common for Japanese to update their personal blogs dozens of times per day from their mobile phones, I began to see why the appeal of Twitter was so hard to grasp. Western Blogs are usually longer posts updated several times per week or month. Japanese mix the short and long form. They’ve been Twittering for years, so they don’t see the point of microblogging; it’s nothing new.
Some companies are doing interesting things, as a panel at the conference showed. Panelists from Ricoh, CSK Holdings and Tokyo Marine discussed how they are using blogs and wikis in several different ways to facilitate sharing among customers, employees and partners.
The level of interest and depth of questions gave me the impression that there is more activity than might be readily apparent. Several of the companies I spoke with were actively watching what other companies were doing and looking for cases where they could begin to use social software technologies internally. It reminds me of the image of a Harrier jump jet, which runs its engines for several minutes before taking off. In that pre-launch phase, it looks like nothing is happening, but inside it is building up power. When it does take off, it goes straight up, very fast. i suspect that Japanese adoption of social software will be similar, with a long period of preparation and then quick adoption once they finally start.
As well as hitting the visitor high spots like a karaoke bar and marveling at the controlled chaos of the Shibuya intersection, I got to try out some ideas I will be presenting at the PCC conference in Orlando, Florida June 8-10 (not much time at home this time of year). Just one of the reasons I appreciated being able to make this trip. I really want to thank the event organizers at Gartner Japan for giving me the chance, and the customers, vendors and journalists who gave me so much of their time and insights.