On Our Radar Screen

Back to Contents of Issue: June 2001

Video News Network Inc www.videonews.com
An Internet TV service that actually works. Founded by longtime video journalist (and Columbia J-school grad) Tetsuo Jimbo, site content can be seen on the Web, on cable (he claims 2.5 million cable viewers nationwide), and on DoCoMo's M-Stage mobile video service ("Tokyo Markets Update"). VNN also provides feeds to Bridge, NHK, TV Asahi, TBS, ABC, PBS, SCN, and others. Videonews.com provides a good selection of up-to-date news covering politics, business, society, and current issues, and targets viewers dissatisfied with Japan's mainstream media coverage (for more, see "Freeing of the Press," page 26, April 2001). Web stories are integrated with streaming video clips, audio files, and other links. The site launched in April last year, and offers some new-for-Japan services like Talk on Demand, allowing immediate feedback from online audiences. No details on the business model and, other than banner ads (from some big names, including GOO, Sanwa Bank, and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi), the site may be more a labor of love than anything else. Ex-AP newsman Jimbo also consults and conducts training workshops and seminars for cable TV companies. If anything can disintermediate the unholy alliance of politics, business, and the bureaucracy in Japan, it's the Net, and this is one of the sites helping start the process.

Enfour Inc. www.enfour.com
The little software house that could! Tokyo-based Enfour, a developer of Asian language input methods, localized software, and all things to do with the viscera of handheld computing, has scored a couple of behind-the-scenes successes. Its UniFEP series of Unicode-based multilingual input editors was first commercialized on Apple's Newton back in '94, and more recent versions have been ported to EPOC (a Windows CE version is in the works); Enfour is also the Psion distributor in Japan. While you may not be too concerned with how a handheld computer displays Asian text on a screen or formats data onto a printout, Sony, for one, certainly is. In April the global electronics giant launched a new version of its Palm OS PDA, the CLIE, that uses Enfour Media Laboratory's TypeBank screen fonts (a version of the fonts is also available to help PC- and Mac-based developers emulate i-mode phone display screens). CEO Richard Northcott is a passionate, outspoken proponent of common-sense software development -- a requirement, we suppose, for success in the otherwise mundane field of CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) fonts, double-byte text handling, printer control languages, and multilingual dictionaries. The Microsofts, Apples, and other big names of the software industry get the glory, but it's little guys like Enfour that make it all work.

ImaHima Inc www.imahima.com
Founded in 1999 by ex-Goldman Sachs analyst Neeraj Jhanji, ImaHima ("Are you free now?") is a socializing and scheduling service enabling mobile customers to locate and contact friends, schedule parties and events, meet new people, and find information and activities based on their current location via mobile phone (the service is now accessible from PC as well). Jhanji was one of the first foreigners to approach DoCoMo about setting up a social networking and meeting service for i-mode, but he was shown the door when it became apparent that ImaHima could also be used by ax-murderers and the like to meet up with unsuspecting victims (i-mode's handlers were hypercautious about safety and security in the service's earlier days). Undeterred, Jhanji went ahead and launched as an unofficial site, which quickly racked up users in the low tens of thousands based on word-of-mouth marketing. Since then, Jhanji has found a way to make the service acceptable to the nannies over at i-mode and has launched Version 2.0, which features more sophisticated personalization tools and a searchable directory, as an official i-mode site. ImaHima is now on all the Japanese mobile Webs, and is looking at expanding into Europe in WAP and SMS versions, spurred in part by some capital kicked in from AOL; the venture claims 250,000-plus users and more than 1 million page views daily. Next time an Indian national in Tokyo who doesn't speak much Japanese offers you a low-paying job in a startup that has no revenue and no marketing, say "Yes" -- like ImaHima, that venture may be going somewhere.

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.