One of the things that shocks foreigners when they first come to Japan is how phone communication works here. Back in the day Japanese feature phones were light-years ahead of their overseas rivals. Rather than rely on simple text messages, phones sent messages via email.
It caught new arrivals to the country unawares but really was a better system. It allowed for larger messages and for the user to add colour and decoration, which led to a standard set of emoticons which all Japanese phones share to this day. You could also send messages to someone’s phone from any computer, which is good for sending messages for free. This however caused the system’s biggest downfall. It was really easy to spam a phone’s email from a pc. I had to disable emails from computers on my phone because of the constant spam I was getting and I am generally very careful about who I let know my email address.
Fast forward a few years and the entire phone landscape has changed, Japanese phones are no longer number one and pretty much everything uses iOS or Android. Now that smart phones have taken over instant messaging is all the rage. What instant messenger is everyone using? It’s not Facebook Messenger, it’s not Skype and it certainly isn’t any platform specific app. No, everyone here uses LINE.
Never heard of it? I’m not surprised but in about a year users have risen to 20 million in Japan alone. Which is seriously impressive considering that only 10 - 20 million use the likes of Facebook and Twitter here. Hell, Mixi, the leader in the Japanese social network sphere only has 30 million active users and that has been around for ages.
Made by the Japanese wing of Naver, a Korean company it seems to have appealed to the Japanese sensibility by adding something that the likes of Skype and Facebook haven’t, cuteness.
Not only does it use all the common emoticons but it has come up with cute little pictures (which it calls stickers) to insert into the chats. A fair few are available for free but a couple of months back Naver introduced the sticker shop so people with cash to burn can drop a few yen on new sets of cute characters doing lovable things.
The introduction of this kind of thing shows that Naver intends to exploit the hell out of LINE. Capitalising on the intense popularity of the chat program they have introduced an Instagram style camera app. The twist here is that you can put the little Line stickers all over the photos too. They have even made a greeting card app using the popular stickers. Any picture made in these apps can sent via Line or any other social network for that matter.
Naver have even added a Tetris style puzzle game called LINE Birzzle to the Line brand, any link to the original chat app is spurious at best but if you download it you get free new stickers to use in chats.
It’s looking like Naver want to take over the world. 25 million of its users are based outside Japan, the company expect 100 million users by the end of the year and they have said they want to build a social network to rival Facebook. For now everything they have made is available for free (with micro transactions for extras) which makes them one of the good guys. So, if you want a VoIP chat/instant messaging program with a Japanese feel give it a go, be an early adopter of the Line international revolution.