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Japan: Popularity of Q&A services

Results of a survey by NetRatings Japan, Inc. [ja] released on May 23rd and posted at japan.internet.com [ja] revealed some surprising trends [ja] among Japanese Internet users. Among other things, the survey found that while the amount of time that people spend on the Internet is going up, the number of page views is flat, contrary to what many expected.

The survey also found that popularity of Q&A services, particularly Yahoo!'s Chiebukuro (知恵袋) service started in 2004, have skyrocketed in recent years. From a total of 1.72 million page views on Chiebukuro in 2006, the figure increased to 12.62 million page views by March, 2008. (Other popular Japanese Q&A services [ja] include OKWave [ja], goo's “oshiete!” [ja], and Hatena Question [ja].) The study pointed out that while the reach of Yahoo! Chiekibukuro [ja] was 25.7% in Japan, the reach of the comparable “Yahoo! Answers” service in the U.S. is only 9.4%. Wikipedia also has a higher reach at 37.8% in Japan, compared to 24.5% in the U.S. (A different study, translated at What Japan Thinks, indicated that Japanese trust Q&A sites almost as much as they trust Wikipedia.)

In a post entitled “Japanese like Wikipedia and FAQ”, blogger lattice remarks on the differences between Japanese and American Internet users:

日本人はアメリカ人と違って、人前でオープンに議論するということが苦手である。「人には聞けない事をこっそり調べる」という欲求にネットは合っているのかもしれない。ネットのFAQが流行るのもそうしたこともあるのかもしれない。身近の人間には訊きずらいが、ネットで匿名だと訊きやすいので初心者FAQなども大いに賑わう。ネット上の「教えて君」である。これも自分では積極的に調べようとしない、安易にネットで訊けばいいという、やはり思考停止の反映の1つにも思える。それに対してYahoo!知恵袋のように丁寧に答えてくれる人もいるが、思考停止を指摘するのが「ググレカス」であろう。

Japanese are different from Americans in that they are bad at openly arguing in public. The Internet is a good match, perhaps, for the desire to “secretly look up things that one cannot ask people [directly].” The popularity of Internet FAQ may also have to do with this. While it is difficult to ask people who are close to you, it is easy to ask questions anonymously on the Internet, so services like beginner FAQs are very popular. This is the Internet “oshiekun” [someone who asks others for answers without first researching themselves]. [This tendency] to casually inquire on the Internet, without ever attempting to pro-actively investigate anything by oneself, this can ultimately be thought of as a reflection of people not thinking anymore. While on the other hand there are people who politely answer questions on places like Yahoo! Chiebukuro, the evidence that people are not thinking anymore would seem to be “Gugurecus” [expression meaning something like “Google it, dumb ass”, used often on bulletin boards].

しかし何かネットで調べようとするとき「Google先生に訊いてみよう」とばかりキーワードを入れると出てくるのがYahooで」と言われているようなものだからである。それがネットだからといえばそうではあるのだが。

However, it's somehow a strange sensation when you try and search for something on the Internet, just enter a keyword and “inquire with Google Sensei”, and then [find that] what comes out is something from Yahoo! Chiebukuro. You ask something of Google, and you are told that “the answer is on Yahoo!”, [that's what is strange]. If that's just the way the Internet is, then that's that, but still…

In other results, the survey also confirmed the incredible popularity of Japanese tarento on the Internet. The blog [ja] of actor Kamiji Ysuke in particular was reported to have around one million visitors, with a single entry drawing between ten and fifteen thousand comments over a span of just a few hours. So numerous are the comments on tarento blogs that some have even speculated [ja] the comment-writers may not be human [ja].

Thanks to Taku Nakajima and Yu Yamamoto for suggesting and researching this topic.

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