In the English speaking world, the free blogging platforms that stand out from the crowd are Google's Blogger and Wordpress.com. While those services are also popular in Japan, a particularly strong homegrown contender is Ameba.jp., which is now looking to tap into a global audience by launching as a Facebook app. More than just a blog platform, Ameba is unique in the way it has socialized blogs via a virtual online community - Ameba Pigg. Yes, it's an odd name... But it is Japan after all.
In the English speaking world, the free blogging platforms that stand out from the crowd are Google's Blogger and Wordpress.com. While those services are also popular in Japan, a particularly strong homegrown contender is Ameba.jp., which is now looking to tap into a global audience by launching as a Facebook app. More than just a blog platform, Ameba is unique in the way it has socialized blogs via a virtual online community, Ameba Pigg. Yes, it's an odd name... But it is Japan after all.
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Picture your standard blogging software, with an option to switch to a 3D Second Life-ish world, only cuter and with simpler graphics. When you meet friends in this world you can click through to their blog and browse what they write. Adding the virtual world element to blogging is a very innovative way of making blogs more social. And it's particularly unique in Japan where blogs have traditionally been diary-style islands with little social interaction between users.
An overview of Ameba Pigg
When you begin on Ameba Pigg you first need to create your virtual self. Select from a wide range of eyes, noses, and other features to create a face that looks like yours. After you've styled your character to your liking, you can also select what kind of room you would like to act as your home base. Once that's done you can venture out into the world and explore real-life locales like Shibuya or Yoyogi Park.
In social settings you can chat with others, friend them, and visit their blogs if you find them interesting. You can even visit their rooms, which on the surface looks like a potentially dangerous feature. But the fact that most Japanese bloggers are more protective of their anonymity might be the reason why it can work in Japan.
The Facebook challenge
Ameba says it intends to launch Ameba Pigg on Facebook this spring. Pigg should be able to springboard off the ubiquity of Facebook and widespread cult fascination with all things Japan to achieve decent success as an app. Heck, if Farmville can make it this should be a shoo-in. The greatest potential of an application like this might be to integrate with Facebook's group and geo-specific data. Pigg's in-game use of real geographical locales could draw from this data and create virtual groups that mirror real world towns and communities (think virtual high school reunions perhaps). Privacy will be a challenge, but a representative with the company acknowledged that they "really need to modify for global audience" before launching. I suspect that privacy concerns are high on the list of priorities.
Whatever approach it decides to take, Ameba Pigg does have some serious promise as a Facebook app. Virtual worlds typically demand high quality graphics, but Ameba Pigg is simple enough that it can be used on almost any machine. When you drop something like that into a platform as widely used as Facebook, it should have amazing potential.