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I just learned that So-net SNS, one of the largest user generated social networking services will be closing it's business this year. It seems that So-net and other So-net like 'create your own SNS' services haven't succeeded in Japan.

The problem is that the players of the user generated SNS scene in
Japan are all modeling off of how Mixi works (the largest social
network in Japan). So-net SNS was based off of OpenPNE, a popular
open-source social networking platform that allows you to create social
networks very quickly. Other similar services in Japan also make heavy
use of OpenPNE.

Now anyone who has used OpenPNE knows that it mimics the user interface
and features of Mixi. I'm not saying OpenPNE or Mixi is bad. However
it seems to me that most user
generated SNS services in Japan are either using OpenPNE or are similar
to Mixi. The problem with this is that they don't particularly have a
good interface for niche communities. They are networks that center
around existing friendships rather than discovering new connections.

Yahoo Japan launched their business community off of OpenPNE and is a good example of this. I wrote a blog post
about it and at the time I was really excited to see a possible
Linkedin in Japan. Unfortunately, the community never seemed to have
taken off and I think it's precisely because the solution came before
identifying user needs. After signing up, I was asking myself, now
what? There was no community activity feed, it was really difficult to
navigate and even find a discussion to participate in. In the end, it
was really hard to do what I really wanted to do - network. It's
because OpenPNE models off of Mixi which is a community that centers
around existing friendships. The interface doesn't center around
creating new connections.

In the end, it's the case of companies defining their service based
on existing solutions and hoping it meets user needs. Instead,
companies should identify user needs first and then decide on the
features.

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Comment by Ben Ward on May 17, 2010 at 4:03pm
It's nice to see everyone's opinion on OpenPNE. We were considering moving our community features at maneo.jp (social lending) to openpne. However, no one was using them to begin with. The business model comes with a lot of privacy concerns so people were not inclined to share. We wanted to integrate with outside SNS and import blog feeds, but the risk was that people would share toomuch information.
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on February 26, 2010 at 4:31pm
I guess my point is that there are reasons for it's done a certain way, even if it's not the best; and if you're unfamiliar with that mindset it can seem incredibly stupid and without merit whatsoever.
Agreed. Is there such a thing as software development perfection? or maybe it is relevant to the application at hand.. However, I do think it is important to keep commonly accepted UX/design principles in mind on any project, even when facing highly customized/pressure situations.. somewhat like finding a working balance between sound design and precise functionality. IMO, systems that favor one over the other simply don't make it, or are more susceptible to becoming 'obsolete' in the long run.. (which is fine if a short-term desired goal has been achieved)

Sometimes I like to compare software development to ancient architectures. So take Egyptian pyramids, for example, as they are still standing. Their design and positioning/location is quite complex, but can be more intuitive to someone who is well versed in geometry and astrology. One could argue that survival of Egyptian civilization was dependent on the precision of these structures, which were built over a number of years using significant resources. Is software development much too different from such architecture? Or maybe it is the 'point of view' that defines the 'importance' of any particular project.

In short, I think it is important to remember not to take things too seriously, no matter how 'important' they are. This way it is easier to focus on the problem at hand and do a really good job at it. Otherwise there is danger of getting too 'stuck' in seriousness of reality, which, in my opinion, is a pitfall that should be avoided.
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on February 25, 2010 at 9:17pm
@Brian - I think the problem is that some systems, especially government oriented, are built according to strict requirements and deadlines. Engineers who build them usually have little or no access to user base which helps to facilitate a healthy product evolution. There is also little time for 'improvisation' (he he), given most of this happens under a lot of pressure from clients and superiors. In the end, what we get is an overly complex 'Featuritis' :) that satisfies original requirements, but really sux for the end-user. And then, of course, huge learning curve, lots of training, etc.. Not only that these models really lack any excitement, they also cost a lot to implement. I think this is one of the reasons why so much $$ is being spent in gov't IT.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 25, 2010 at 8:26pm
Brian - Did you come up with that graph? Its brilliant. Absolutely spot on.

Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 24, 2010 at 2:23pm
I agree. Copying Mixi was not the way to go. The requirements of a general purpose network and a branded niche network are different. Also, Mixi, despite its marketing dominance, has long lagged behind networks such as Facebook in terms of features and UX design. I'm sure this was due in part to the fact they only had one developer, Batara Eto, until fairly recently. Batara must have been heavily caffeinated!
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on February 24, 2010 at 1:32pm
In the end, it's the case of companies defining their service based on existing solutions and hoping it meets user needs. Instead, companies should identify user needs first and then decide on the features.
I could not agree more with this statement. A lot of businesses out there fall into the same pitfall. They provide services assuming users are going to like it, only to discover that users' interests actually have different priorities. That's is why I really like business models that let their products be shaped by evolving user needs.. starting simple, continuously providing users with features that are being needed/requested the most, in order of escalating complexity (simplest most frequently requested features first). I believe such models have higher likelihood of success, mostly because they save time, $$ and have higher rate of appreciation/acceptance by their end-user community - all key elements in a successful product launch.

Another important point is ease of use, as nobody ever wants to spend time learning things :) IMO, iPhone is a really great example of that, having a simple intuitive UI.

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