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You're forgetting about digital media: http://www.theverge.com/2012/11/15/3628376/japan-digital-con...

There's a lot more to moving your life online than social networking. I'm not big on social networking either. But that doesn't mean I still rent my videos at the corner store or go to the local record store to buy albums on CD.




I don't think I am forgetting about those things -- read the closing paragraph of the article you link:

    The real question, however, is whether or not
    Japanese consumers even want these services that
    we from the West can no longer imagine life without.
    Hulu and Sony are making good starts, but they 
    certainly have their work cut out for them in Japan.
    As far as I can tell, most people are pretty happy as
    long as they live within bicycle distance of a Tsutaya
    — that’s basically everyone in Tokyo, by the way — and
    its convenient, cheap access to rented media. Which,
    of course, can be copied and kept forever; a practice
    that Tsutaya has gone out of its way to encourage by 
    actually selling burnable discs and drives alongside its
    J-pop CDs. And for casual consumers, maybe it is a better
    solution. No DRM, no extortionate prices, and a sense of
    ownership. That’s the thing about Japan — for better or 
    worse, you can always count on the place to march to the 
    beat of a different drummer.
Like I said: different.

It reminds me of how Japan kept (and keeps) using fax machines. It seems archaic, but fax machines are dramatically easier to use and far more reliable than any email system every devised.

Part of what is going on here is that all the digital solutions suck too much ass. It took Apple ten years from when they launched iTunes Store to make the legal digital music scene actually better than CDs (when they finally shitcanned all DRM and stopped sucking more than the process of driving to Best Buy). It took an Amazon to make digital books not suck balls.

Nobody has done that with movies and TV yet (other than the bootleg torrent scene, I mean). But I note the article mentions Hulu is doing well in Japan. Well, the suck-ass Hulu that they have in America wouldn't do well here -- they had to make Japanese Hulu significantly better (no ads, faster speeds, subtitles, etc). It's still not good enough that I can say walking down the street to Tsutaya is Doing It Wrong.

I'm not saying the Japanese are the masters of the Internet, either. It turns out that the reason all Japanese websites look like shit is because that's how the Japanese want 'em. I spoke to an engineer for Rakuten at the last HN Tokyo meetup -- turns out Rakuten actually does have some designers and they've A/B tested their current 450-blinking-mini-banners-per-6MB-page against some clean and modern designs. The horrific eyesores won. The people had spoken. And what they said was, well, different.


> It seems archaic, but fax machines are dramatically easier to use and far more reliable than any email system every devised.

Are you kidding me? I have never had issues with reliability of email, but fax machines are always breaking down, running out of toner, and lord knows what else. That's why services like HelloFax exist.

> It took Apple ten years from when they launched iTunes Store to make the legal digital music scene actually better than CDs (when they finally shitcanned all DRM and stopped sucking more than the process of driving to Best Buy).

Uhh, no. Most Americans I know stopped buying CDs from Best Buy some time around 2005 or 2006. And those were the latecomers. The younger people stopped pretty much after Napster became big in the late 90s.

> Nobody has done that with movies and TV yet

Have you never used Netflix?

> It turns out that the reason all Japanese websites look like shit is because that's how the Japanese want 'em. I spoke to an engineer for Rakuten at the last HN Tokyo meetup -- turns out Rakuten actually does have some designers and they've A/B tested their current 450-blinking-mini-banners-per-6MB-page against some clean and modern designs. The horrific eyesores won. The people had spoken. And what they said was, well, different.

A/B testing is not the be all and end all of website design: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2010/07/groundhog-day-or-th...

And I wouldn't use Rakuten as an example of shining engineering (or design) talent. I interviewed with them and quickly realized that it was a place where engineers went to get super shitty. Not to mention that Mikitani's famed "B2B2C" model is just plain idiotic. Surprise surprise, give people too much control over their "store pages", and they turn to shit. In America we'd already learned that lesson from MySpace, but it apparently never translated over to Japan.

And if the Japanese like crammed and messy designs so much, why have the iPhone and iPad been such big hits? Shouldn't they have just kept using their Galapagos keitai, with the horribly confusing byzantine UI and tons of features that no one ever used?


Real quick:

1.) Yes you have had reliability issues with email. And so has everybody else who has ever used it. It's inherently unreliable by design, and errors can happen anywhere along the chain and often don't reported back.

2.) I have used Netflix. It's the best legal solution I've seen so far, but the selection still sucks and it doesn't work internationally. Not solved.

3.) Most Americans you know may have stopped buying CDs in 2005, but not most Americans I know, and (more to the point) not most Americans in general[1][2]. I dabbled in buying digital music back then, but it was inferior, crippled, DRM-laden shit. iTunes didn't fix that until 2009[3]. US digital music sales didn't surpass physical sales until 2011.

4.) I wasn't using Rakuten as an example of shining engineering or design. I'm saying the horrible, garish store pages on Rakuten -- apparently as shocking to your sensibilities as they are to mine -- are actually what the Japanese people, in aggregate, seem to prefer. Understanding that goes a long way toward understanding why all my Japanese bank websites look so heinous[4], why my coworkers here prefer Yahoo to Google for web-searching, and so on.

The iPhone? Well fuck it, that must be the exception that proves the rule. ;-)

But before you diss those old Galapagos keitais, people did use the hell out of those. I know 50 year olds who can still reserve a flight way faster on one of those things while driving down the street than I can do with my iPhone using both hands.

My point in all of this was just to say Japan isn't "behind" the US in Internet use (in terms of per capita users, they are very similar, ranked #14 and #13 respectively[5]), they just use it differently.

Some differences I like (e.g., not prematurely accepting cunty DRM-ridden systems that aren't really as good as the old systems they purport to replace).

Some, I don't like (e.g., bank website design).

And some, like not really having digital books here yet (outside of manga, anyway) are a just function of the USA's global economic dominance -- those markets take an Apple or Amazon to spearhead. Japan is not those American companies' first priority. It'll take more time before those products are available here.

OK, I lied, that wasn't real quick.

[1]: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20120105005547/en/Niel...

[2]http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20130104005149/en/Niel...

[3]: http://www.pcworld.com/article/162732/drm_free_itunes_meanin...

[4]: Yep, including this one (lol!): http://www.rakuten-bank.co.jp

[5]: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/int_use_percap-internet-us...


> Yes you have had reliability issues with email. And so has everybody else who has ever used it. It's inherently unreliable by design, and errors can happen anywhere along the chain and often don't reported back.

Uh, no I haven't. I cannot remember a single instance in which I sent an email and it failed to arrive in the recipient's inbox. Just stop and think about it - you're actually defending fax machines, which are KNOWN to regularly break down.

> I have used Netflix. It's the best legal solution I've seen so far, but the selection still sucks and it doesn't work internationally. Not solved.

The reason it doesn't work in Japan is because Japan is way behind when it comes to the internet. Because Japanese companies are lumbering behemoths loathe to adopt the internet. Because consumers don't show interest in streaming their movies and TV shows instead of going to Tsutaya.

> Most Americans you know may have stopped buying CDs in 2005, but not most Americans I know, and (more to the point) not most Americans in general[1][2]. I dabbled in buying digital music back then, but it was inferior, crippled, DRM-laden shit. iTunes didn't fix that until 2009[3]. US digital music sales didn't surpass physical sales until 2011.

Of course digital sales didn't surpass physical sales for a long time - with digital sales, people started buying singles instead of whole CDs, so they were spending a lot less money. And a lot of the people were just pirating their music instead of buying it. You would have to compare total digital vs physical music consumption, not music sales, in order to figure out how quickly digital music was adopted. Just because someone purchased a $10 CD doesn't mean they actually listened to all the songs on it. And just because someone who listens to music all the time has never purchased a song digitally doesn't mean they buy CDs (they could have pirated it all).

And what about Japan? How is digital music doing there in comparison to the US? Oh yeah, people are STILL buying/renting and listening to CDs.

> I'm saying the horrible, garish store pages on Rakuten -- apparently as shocking to your sensibilities as they are to mine -- are actually what the Japanese people, in aggregate, seem to prefer. Understanding that goes a long way toward understanding why all my Japanese bank websites look so heinous[4], why my coworkers here prefer Yahoo to Google for web-searching, and so on.

How much concrete evidence is there that the Japanese don't prefer cleaner website designs? You could've said the same thing about American websites in the 90s, but things have changed.

As for preferring Yahoo to Google, that has more to do with historical preferences than the site design. After all, Bing has a clean and simple design, and is largely comparable to Google in terms of results, but Americans continue to use Google. Old habits die hard. The difference in Japan is that they are even more attached to doing things as they've always been done. It takes a dramatic event, like the Meiji Revolution, or losing in WW2, to engender rapid change in Japan.

> Some differences I like (e.g., not prematurely accepting cunty DRM-ridden systems that aren't really as good as the old systems they purport to replace).

I don't think it has anything to do with DRM. The Japanese are happy to deal with Apple's draconian App Store policies as they buy tons and tons of iPhones. What proof is there that it was DRM that stopped them from buying music on iTunes? The real reason is that the record industry in Japan refused to put their music online until recently.

> those markets take an Apple or Amazon to spearhead. Japan is not those American companies' first priority

Why not a Japanese company, like Sony? Sony had an E-reader in Japan a long time ago. But it could never move forward, because a few companies have a stranglehold on the publishing industry and aren't receptive to change.




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