By Greg Lane
Street View lands in Japan
Google’s controversial Street View add-on to Google Maps was launched for the larger Japanese cities in early August. For the uninitiated, Street View allows browsers to cruise through the city at street level using actual photography collected by a fleet of camera-mounted vehicles. Despite efforts by Google to blur faces and number plates and allow users to report scenes in which individuals can be identified, the service is raising privacy questions around the world. Just by having a quick browse, it is immediately apparent that there are a lot of people visible in Tokyo. This is probably due to two things: The first one is obvious— there are just a lot of people living here. The second is that the streets are narrower. While in the US, people are likely to be at a distance of several meters from the camera, in Japan the pedestrians are almost close enough to touch the camera-mounted vehicle.
NTT Launches strange SNS
NTT has launched a Social Network called ‘Talk Feel’ (www.talkfeel.com) with the honorable intention of bringing together people in Japan and China. The site allows users to post short messages which are automatically translated into each others’ language. Profound comments such as “Now I’m having lunch’ and ‘This is a test’ will no doubt convince the young ones in both Japan and China that their lives are equally mundane.
Lots and lots of blood
Tech and science news site Ars Technica reports that Japanese researchers have discovered a method to transform embryonic stem cells into red blood cells. Using fetal liver cells from mice and cultured human embryonic blood cells, the researchers were able to form fully functioning adult red blood cells. Taking into account the millions that go into maintaining blood stocks around the world, on-demand blood supply has the potential to earn some yen for the creators, saving lives in the process. One of the challenges of making the technique viable for producing large amounts of red blood cells will be to remove the mouse from the process. Given the size of a mouse liver, a single liter of blood would require a LOT of mice.
Facebook has a big mountain to climb
According to internet research and marketing company Comscore, American social networking site Facebook has managed to triple its user base in Japan in the last year. However, with 25 times more users, Mixi is still a big nasty Godzilla to Facebook’s annoying tick. Even Myspace (the social network everyone forgot about) has more than twice as many users as Facebook. Unless Facebook comes up with some compelling local offerings, it’s going to be hard for them to maintain a similar kind of growth.
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As we go to press, there are 13 completed or forecast IPOs for the month of August. This compares favorably to last year’s number of 11 IPOs. Unlike previous months, there are also some eagerly anticipated launches among them. Of special interest is China Boqi Environmental Solutions Technology which launched on the Tokyo Stock Exchange a day after the opening of the Olympics on August 9. China Boqi has become the first Chinese company to list on a Japanese market not intended for start-ups. Also of interest for the wrong reasons are real estate companies Samty (listing on July 31) and Ascot Corp (listing on August 5)—both took big plunges after the first opening bell due to, well, just being in the real estate sector. Ascot, however, did make a good recovery. Rising internet star Venture Republic also had it’s IPO on August 7 on Osaka Securities Exchange’s Nippon New Market Hercules for start-ups. Despite following the recent trend and plunging 20% on listing, Venture Republic is not the archetypical profits-pending Internet company. Last year, the company that runs Japan’s No. 2 comparison shopping site (coneco.net) turned a net profit of ¥132 million on revenues of ¥1.57 billion. Despite the small recovery in August, some analysts are calling it a ‘dead cat bounce’ with prospects for the rest of the year looking dismal. This should be taken with a grain of salt though, as these are more than likely the same analysts who were picking 2008 as another bumper year for IPOs. On the flip side of IPOs, presumably due to high oil prices and the ongoing fallout from the subprime crisis (how long are we going to keep saying this?) a number of foreign firms are delisting from the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Among these are big names such as Boeing, British Petroleum and Barclays. This further reflects the role of the TSE as an Asian rather than global exchange.