MSNBC has an interesting story on the differences in how social networks are used in Japan as compared to the US.
Welcome to Japan’s online social scene, where you’re unlikely to meet anyone you don’t know already. The early promises of a new, open social frontier, akin to the identity-centric world of Facebook and MySpace in the U.S., have been replaced by a realm where people stay safely within their circles of friends and few reveal themselves to strangers.
It reveals some interesting facts about people’s expectation of privacy.
People rarely give their first names to those they don’t know well. Spontaneous exchanges are uncommon even on the tightly packed trains and streets of Tokyo. TV news shows often blur the faces of those caught in background footage and photos to protect their privacy.
This is quite in line with the open letter to Google last month by a Japanese blogger pointing out the cultural inappropriateness of Google Street View
According to the morals of urban area residents in Japan, the assumption that “it is scenery [viewable] from public roads and therefore it must be public” is in fact incorrect. Quite the contrary, [these morals state that] “people walking along public roads must avert their glance from the living spaces right before their eyes”.
Japan’s cultural difference was again brought out in the response it gave to Apple’s iPhone 3G launch in July, 2008.
"The iPhone was welcomed here with long lines of gadget fans. But it’s also being seen as shockingly alien to this nation’s quirky and closed mobile world… For example, young people in Japan take for granted the ability to share phone numbers, e-mail addresses and other contact information by beaming it from one phone to another over infrared connections. Being without those instantaneous exchanges would be the death knell on the Japanese dating circuit," Kageyama reports. "While the iPhone has Bluetooth wireless links, it has no infrared connection."
"Also missing from Steve Jobs’ much-praised design: a hole in the handset for hanging trinkets. Westerners may scoff at them as childish, but having them is a common social practice in Japan," Kageyama reports.
This is a good example of the tension between centralization and specialization of service and control. Making one device or service for all is a very cheap process; however, making it fit the long tail requires intense resources for customization and is harder to achieve.