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Summary:

More and more companies are looking to get a piece of the mobile social network market that has been growing in Japan, one of the world’s most advanced cellular markets. Mixi, with its mobile-friendly features went public earlier this year, and Rupert Murdoch said today that […]

More and more companies are looking to get a piece of the mobile social network market that has been growing in Japan, one of the world’s most advanced cellular markets. Mixi, with its mobile-friendly features went public earlier this year, and Rupert Murdoch said today that he would discuss offering a joint service for cell phones with Japan’s Softbank Corp. That’s why mobile messaging startup Gemini Mobile Technologies chose Japan for the launch of its “mobile social network” product called eXplo, which can run the back-end of mobile communities for carriers.

Gemini, which has offices in both Tokyo and San Mateo, says eXplo is powering Softbank’s own 3D mobile community called S! Town that offers chatting, shopping, and other community features via cell phones. Founded in 2001 by Hiroshi Ota, Michael Tso and Scott Driggers, Gemini raised $7.5 million from Ignite Japan/Tokio Marine, Mizuho Bank, and Mitsubishi-UFJ last year, and says it is already profitable from its messaging platform. The company hopes to add even more customers with its new social networking product.


Gemini CTO Michael Tso showed us S! Town at a local starbucks, and the interface is designed like a virtual world where your avatar walks around, chats with friends and shops. It reminded us of a combination of the real-time Habbo Hotel meets Cyworld community. Gemini powers the service and fills all the back-end infrastructure-heavy needs, but Japanese game company Bandai did the design, so Gemini products for U.S. or European carriers would likely look a lot different.

The U.S. definitely isn’t ready for a product like S! Town, given the product’s sophisticated 3D graphics and virtual world-style design. But Tso showed a more basic 2D version of the community product made in the company’s Beijing offices, which might find more success outside of Japan.

Gemini hopes to make money from a combination of licensing fees, and money from ads that are placed throughout the community. Other than carriers, the company could partner with large social networks that are looking to go mobile. If the company already has Softbank as a customer, maybe a MySpace deal, particularly in Japan, is a possiblity.

  1. Jesse Kopelman Monday, November 6, 2006

    Wait, why aren’t we ready for 3D graphics. Last time I checked, the part of the US I live in exists in 3D . . .

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  2. That is a good question…Katie, why don’t you think the US would go for 3D graphics and virtual worlds? I’m not seeing a barrier…

    Also, could someone please link to some screen shots of S! Town? I’d love to see it.

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  3. Katie Fehrenbacher Monday, November 6, 2006

    I meant that I don’t think a 3D virtual world is likely to be adopted by a U.S. carrier as the interface for a mainstream mobile social network in the near future. Most attempts at mobile social networks in the U.S. have been mostly text or MMS-based extensions of web-based social networks. And U.S. social networks that have mobile access are using very simple basic designs.

    S! Town looks more like a video game, (kindof reminded me of the original Zelda in a way) with your avatar wandering around and interacting with a town and chatting with the inhabitants and entering stores. (I wish I had screen shots.) Maybe one day this design could become popular for mobile social networks, but for now multiplayer first person player cell phone games haven’t been too popular in the U.S. What do you think?

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  4. Jesse Kopelman Tuesday, November 7, 2006

    Maybe these things aren’t popular in the US because no one has made much of a marketing effort? I still remember “learned” discussions in the 90s about how nobody wanted push-to-talk or SMS or even data services faster than CDPD. The US mobile social networking market is far from saturated? Isn’t the market wide-open for approaches other than Myspace/Facebook on the phone?

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  5. The reason why US is not ready for a 3D mobile social app yet is because the majority of phones in the US are not yet 3D capable. When you deploy games/applications with the mobile operators in the USA, eg. Sprint you are forced to support old phones that only support MIDP 1.

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