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April 16, 2007

Exploding Social Media in Information Society

Tsuruaki YUKAWA (Visiting Research Fellow, GLOCOM, IUJ, and Senior Staff Writer, Jiji Press)

People's Desire For Self-Expression

What is "social media"? Social media may be loosely defined as "participatory media," through which anyone can express his or her feelings, dreams, opinions, etc. and communicate with each other for mutual understandings, stimulation, enjoyment, etc. It is well known by now that the so-called "Web 2.0" argument has emphasized the emergence of such social media as blogs and SNS. After closely examining further developments of such social media including mobile media and virtual reality, I maintain that there seems to be an explosion of social media taking place now and its social impacts can no longer be ignored by any established organization such as businesses and mass media in Japan or elsewhere.

However, there is always an argument that Japanese could not (or would not be willing to) express themselves, at least as explicitly as Americans or Europeans, so that the development of social media might be limited in Japan. I do not agree with this argument. Although my overseas living experience is not particularly extensive (only 20 years or so in the U.S.), I strongly feel that human beings are much alike with various types of individuals found in any country, and Japanese are not so unique as often presumed. As of now, there may be differences among different countries in terms of the level of desire to express oneself or to explore one's creativit y, but it is a matter of time to see those differences narrow and disappear, so long as people's desire for self-expression is concerned.

Almighty Google Vs. People's Social Media

In the context of "Web 2.0," it is often pointed out that Google, the leader of search engines, is bound to play a dominant role in the Internet world, because such functions as search, classification, database, etc. are quite important in the digitized world with information explosion, and Google's technologies and strategies seem invincible, compared to any one of their potential competitors in the market. In this sense, Google is sometime referred to as the "almighty God" in the information society. As a result, there is increasing fear that Google could become too powerful and too dominant, as their technology becomes a kind of global standard, and their database becomes a kind of social infrastructure all over the world. Such fear is amply expressed in a short movie entitled "EPIC 2014" (

Although this kind of reaction to the "monopolistic power" of Google is understandable and may be partly justified, it turns out that search engines as a whole can actually control only about 5 percent of the total data traffic on the net, according to Bill Gossman, President and CEO of Revenue Science ( In the past, the Internet has been somewhat like a "library," where search engines are the most important tool for "library users." But as we are entering the era of social media, there are an increasing number of "community centers," where various activities are taking place, and people are learning from each other. As SNS and other social media are increasing in importance, the scope of search engines is becoming smaller over time. Even in the area of search engines, Google's power is not particularly strong regarding mobile search engines. For example, in Japan some mobile search engines seem to be doing well and competitively viable by utilizing user information effectively for their personalized services (e.g., Mobagatown:

In the 20th century with dominant mass media in the society, a monopolistic media company such as Google could have had overwhelming power to control much of the information that we need in our daily life. Now that we have entered a new world of social media, where people's desire for self-expression and creativity is being emancipated, no single company, however clever and powerful it might be, could control the exploding amount of information coming out of creative individuals all over the world. In this new world, whether in Japan or elsewhere, the most important thing is not fears, but hopes and dreams for us to pursue by following our own desire to express ourselves through ever-expanding social media to be advanced by our own creativity.

Tsukuaki YUKAWA, "Exploding Social Media" (in Japanese), Softbank Shinsho, 2007

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