Tuesday, November 28, 2006


How are mobile-only communities different to their PC counterparts?

Recently I’ve been blogging about how mobile communities are becoming big in Japan, and today there’s an interesting article about mobile communiti... posted on Japanese mobile news site “+D Mobile”. The article is written by a 28 year old female who has grown up with the internet and so “has never understood the feeling that older generations have of not getting the net”. The writer tries out “Mobagetown” – the mobile game community that is incredibly popular with Japanese teens and has recently gained its 2 millionth member and discovered that through using the mobile community it was suddenly her who didn’t get it and the frustrations of the older generation towards the web “became painfully clear”.

The first thing the writer (herself an addict of PC-based online communities) noticed was that as soon as she signed up, she was bombarded by email, all from members of the opposite sex, requesting her virtual friendship. The other thing she noticed is that Mobagetown has its own grammar – and in particular members used emoticons and smilies. Although the writer is net-savvy, even she found it difficult to understand Mobagetown members’ emails.

One of the differences between Mobagetown and popular PC-based Japanese community sites such as Mixi is that it is an open community (Mixi operates a strict invitation-only system – and the focus of the site is building online communities for friends who already know eachother in the real world). Mobagetown forbids members to make requests to meet up in real life so all friends made are truly virtual. The article’s writer notes that this has an interesting effect on the type of interaction that takes place between members.

Mobagetown members are apparently keen to establish structured virtual relationships. There are “Mobaboyfriends”, “Mobagirlfriends”, “Mobafamilies” and “Mobaschools”. There is also much more virtual roleplay on the mobile community. Among the chatrooms there are virtual restaurants where members pretend to order and serve food, classrooms where virtual school is held and hostbars where male hosts listen to female “clients’” troubles.

Another big feature of the mobile community is a Q&A board similar to Yahoo! Answers. The questions asked range from help with school home work (How do you say x in English?) to questions on love and relationships (What xmas present should I buy for my girlfriend? / I’ve fallen in love with my Mobaboyfriend, what should I do?).

The conclusion of the article is that there are big differences between the “culture” of PC-based community sites and that of mobile communities. The author writes that, once you get used to the small screen and slower navigation, Mobagetown feels very much like a virtual school common room where members can be themselves and play games together. A new generation of community that can only exist on the mobile phone is beginning to take off in Japan.

(Left to right: homework maths questions answered on a Q&A board, roleplaying in a Mobahostbar, one of the games the Mobagetown community is built around - images (c) itmedia)

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