When I first set out to join the Japanese social media network Mixi and document that experience, I was operating based on assumptions and opinions that I’ve come to question after having engaged with a plethora of sources that have expanded my contextual understanding of Mixi. To that end, Norman Denzin wrote that ‘the critical, performance ethnographer is committed to producing and performing texts that are grounded in and co-constructed in the politically and personally problematic worlds of everyday life’ (2003, p.270), and so my further research has focused on the evolution of Mixi.
Having been written in the early 2000’s, the reading mentions the periodic paradigm shift of ‘connections between the public and the private… being dismantled’ (p.260). This is an interesting insight, as Mixi and Facebook’s launch the following year embodied this transition. However, the behavior exhibited on Mixi historically has been different from that of Facebook. User’s were noted to operate mostly anonymously because they often felt uncomfortable freely speaking their mind.
I had also assumed in my earlier post was that both Mixi and Facebook were fundamentally the same service, catering to different regions, however from my own experience Mixi relies heavily on interacting with groups of like minded people rather than ‘real-life’ friends. The promotion of communities and specific threads, almost like a forum, feels like a mix of some services that I’m familiar with like Reddit and NeoGAF mixed with the functionality of Facebook. Because of this focus on tightly knitted community, there existed a place on Mixi to talk about the Australian city of Dubbo in 2005, whether as visitors or citizens. By contrast, the official Facebook page was created in 2012, just 4 years ago.
This was an epiphany for me; realizing Mixi wasn’t just a place to talk about Japanese culture. Having said that, one of the motivations for Japanese netizens to venture beyond Mixi and embrace both MySpace and recently Facebook was to escape what’s popularly referred to as ‘Mixi tsukare’ (a fatigue of the service). To free themselves from ‘Japanese cultural norms’ as Philip Seargeant & Caroline Tagg explain, these alternatives gained traction. Professor Toshie Takahashi, speaking to users of both Mixi and MySpace concluded that ‘MySpace is about me AND them, and Mixi is about me WITH them’ (2010, p.453). This correlates with the fear of standing out from the crowd should you speak against the accepted narrative.
As I wrote in my earlier blog post, and should have passed-off as simply wanting to approach the website as objectively and expectation free as possible, my initial lack of research into choosing a suitable website meant I chose one that happened to be on its way out. By the developer of Monster Strike‘s (2013) own admission, Mixi as a social network was ‘on its knees‘ and the demise was inevitable. Monster Strike saved the company at the 11th hour. The author compares this unlikely reality to ‘Myspace creating the next Angry Birds’. A particular point of interest to me, is that the hit game was developed by the producer of Street Fighter II (1987) & II (1991), Yoshiki Okamoto. Perhaps more broadly relevant, the article states that the company hasn’t bothered trying ‘to tie Monster Strike to its own fading social network’, which seems to suggest that Mixi is irreparably doomed.
The unexpected savior
When digging up some of the history of Mixi, I found this YouTube video by a teacher at the Osaka Jogakuin College in Japan. From 2007, when Mixi still was the predominant service, it’s conveniently in English and interestingly illustrates a familiar attitude emerging from young social media users on Facebook: a push-back against older generations who try to join their social circles. Functionally there’s two social media landscapes; like a ‘kids table’ and ‘adults table’ that are barely separated. Additionally, seeing the service in its early years is helpful as it highlights some similarities and shows where the service has come from.
In addition to it already fading rapidly in popularity, perhaps caused by this, one of the key epiphanies was the realization that Mixi requires the possession of a phone with a number registered in Japan. I had ignored the fact that there was no official English interface for the website and assumed it was just because they figured no-one outside of the Japanese focused community would want access. This realization told me that, unlike Facebook, Mixi as a social network wasn’t concerned with servicing other markets. Facebook’s Country Growth Manager Nikkei Trendy states their service is a ‘real’ social network (real names), but also a personal advertising opportunity. Moreover, Facebook acts as an ‘infrastructure’ due to it’s pervasive APIs weaved into other sites which makes international market penetration, I imagine, easier. Mixi’s response from exec Tsuji Masataka stated their users valued the ‘stronger ties’ and values closed community. This experience surprised me; I’d assumed that any social media would embrace open accessibility to gain and maintain users.
McLaren declared that true ‘reflexive, performative ethnography’ values many subjective accounts, has no established, authoritative narrative, and doubts accounts given by historically privileged voices (1997, p. 170). As a person entirely dislocated contextually and culturally from the target audience of Mixi, it makes my assessment of it undoubtedly flawed and so I’ve done my best to align my thoughts with others’ and try to comply with Denzin’s ideal critical ethnographer: ‘…committed to producing and performing texts that are grounded in and co-constructed in the politically and personally problematic worlds of everyday life’ (2003, p.270).
References not linked:
- McLaren, Peter, 1997, ‘Revolutionary Multiculturalism: Pedagogies of Dissent for the New Millennium’, Boulder CO: Westview
- Denzin, Norman, 2003, ‘Performing [Auto] Ethnography Politically’, EBSCO Publishing