by Chuck D.
Since the very creation of the Internet, users have been looking for new, creative, and convenient ways to provide and look up information. Jumping forward about two decades, we are now at a time of information overload. Nearly anything and everything can be literally found on the Internet. But now that we know the information is definitely out there and accessible, how do we, as pursuers of knowledge and specific interests (and in this blog’s case Japanese related studies), go about excavating the hidden treasures among the garbage and spam filling our inbox? We all know that “google it” is the generic answer, but even googling something has its limitations. At the end of this post, I hope to at least give you some possible new methods of obtaining the information that you seek.
So why go through the trouble of a social media site instead of doing a direct search query? Ok. Let’s say you do a query on a search engine like, ummm Google, and you do find a website that has information you need. After exhausting that website’s information, more often than not, you have to go back to your search client and look through the results or enter a new search query in order to find additional info. But with social media, more specifically with a SNS (Social Networking Service), the source of your information may have additional sources ready at hand for you to seamlessly connect to.
And with that, we come to the ever-important concept of the “connection.” It is these very connections, or a network of other users, that differentiates SNS from simple websites. The driving force behind SNS’s and their networks of users sharing information is the shared interests of each connected user. In its simplest form, it is a medium where two friends share information that they find relevant to each other. In a more complex system, a researcher in Japanese related studies would be able to find other experts regarding his/her research from across the globe. Let’s take a look at two systems in Japan that may help you get connected in your search relating to Japanese studies.
Simply put, Mixi is known as the “Japanese Facebook,” but with more actual blog posts by its users and a “footprint” feature that shows which users have taken a look at your page and at what time. I’ll save the reason behind that specific feature for another time and go straight to the possible untapped resource within this SNS aside from the obvious blog posts and status updates within.
Mixi’s Community feature is a place where users of specific interests join up, gather, and converse. There you can easily search for a group of enthusiasts who have a wealth of background and information for whatever you may be looking for. And, if not, they are more than likely to give you a connection of theirs that would have information on what you are looking for.
As seen in the screen capture to the right, with a simple search of ukiyo-e in the Community feature search bar, this ukiyo-e group was first on the results lists, boasting more than 8,000 members. Obviously, all of these members are not academic specialists, but rather users who just have a simple interest in ukiyo-e. However, it is more than likely that there are at least a few specialists within this community. By either replying in one of the topic discussions or creating one yourself, you can directly reach out to all the users involved in this community. Another useful tip would be to just message the community’s administrator and they should be able to at least direct you to a source or expert in whatever you are searching for. Just remember that not everything someone says on the Internet is a verifiable fact, so what you find should be a good starting point for your research, but not necessarily definitive information on the topic.
Twitter is relatively new to Japan, having started its platform there in late 2008* (Asiajin). But since its inception, it has shown the most tremendous growth and increase in users among Japanese with an Internet connection. Twitter is ranked second only to Denmark with a penetration reach of 26.6% of its total Internet population* (comScore) and is second to only the United States with 18% of the twitter share market* (Semiocast). So what do these numbers mean? It simply means that a lot of Japanese people use Twitter and they use it quite often. With only a 140-character limit for a status update or “tweet” (more if using an additional client), Japanese users have been effectively using twitter to spread news and information within minutes of its occurrence. This access of real-time information is Twitter’s strength that even the almighty Google has trouble competing with. Now, armed with a slew of celebrities and politicians, Twitter can directly connect you to people you never thought possible. Famous people in Japan like singer Hamasaki Ayumi (Twitter ayumi_19980408) and Softbank President Son Masayoshi (Twitter masason) are notorious for replying to their followers’ tweets.
In the following screen capture, a search query for 高齢化 koureika (aging population) was entered and links to the latest news article on koureika was given. The first link from the results of the query under the “Tweets with links” section was an article about supporting the elderly with community buses in Kanagawa-ken geared specifically at the elderly. At the time this screen capture was taken, the article was only less than a couple hours old. This is a prime example of Twitter used as a resource for current/real-time information.
But if you are looking for something more than real-time information, Twitter can also be a useful resource that can directly connect you to primary and secondary sources of information. With the same search query for koureika, the subsection of “People” or “Who to Follow” shows some user profiles that actually deal with this subject. And these users aren’t only individuals, but groups as well (the group shown in the screen cap is Hiroshima-ken Shoshika Koureika Taisaku Kyoukai (the Hiroshima Prefecture Association for the Prevention of Declining Birthrate and Aging Population) . These users are definitely a source of information who can also direct you to other sources.
Hopefully, you can give these features a try and utilize them to your own advantage in Japanese studies. We know that the information is out there and available, but being able to access it in an effective way just makes one’s life more convenient. And with Japan’s social media environment expanding exponentially, connecting to that information is only a couple clicks away.
Chuck D. is a contributor for the website Tokyograph.com. Founded in 2006, Tokyograph.com is a news and information website dedicated to Japanese pop culture.