CLOSE-UP: GLOBAL BRIEF; Japan trails in the Net stakes

Japan is not exploiting the major potential of the Net, Michael Fitzpatrick argues

Japan is not exploiting the major potential of the Net, Michael

Fitzpatrick argues



The rest of the world may be cruising on the digital superhighway, but

it appears that Japan has stayed in the Happy Eater with its nose pushed

up against the window.



Surprisingly, given its technological prowess, Japan lacks the kind of

cyber-savvy associated with the Internet guru, Bill Gates, and his

fellow Web surfers in the US. So, naturally, Japanese advertisers are

less interested in using the Net to push their products.



Japan has a surprisingly small number of PC owners compared with the US

- where half of all households have one, and half of these are linked to

some sort of network. By contrast, only about 9 per cent of Japan’s

computers are ‘wired’.



By way of self-censureship, a recent issue of the magazine, Shukan Post,

carried interviews with shop assistants from Akihahra - Tokyo’s

electrical retail area - who gave alarming reports of customers bringing

in disks sealed in plastic bags because their PCs had a virus and others

who ordered copies of Windows 95 even though they didn’t have a

computer.



Although the Windows 95 software sold well in Japan, the high cost of

modems and online services held many consumers back. Many have made do

with dedicated word processors that lack the software capability for

anything more advanced than faxing. Without a demonstrative mass market,

advertisers are loath to commit large budgets.



Compared with what’s on offer in the US and Europe on similar sites,

there’s little to get excited about. At a symposium in Tokyo organised

by Wired magazine, Nicholas Negroponte, director of the Media Lab at the

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, warned Japan against becoming one

of the ‘digital homeless’.



‘I get the impression that this is one of the first times Japan has been

behind in technological advancement,’ he said.



But, according to some observers, it’s a matter of time before Japan

catches up. ‘We’re witnessing the birth of a new media,’ Kim Walker, the

president of Bates Japan, says. ‘Its potential is uncharted, unexplored

and, as a consequence, unrealised. The service providers have not yet

produced the profiles and user data that advertisers require and they

really don’t know how to quote rates. It’s like the blind leading the

blind.’



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