Journalism Essay Research Paper The following paper

Journalism Essay, Research Paper The following paper was recently presented by Kamlesh Ramji VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES IN JAPAN 1. Abstract In recent years, virtual communities have proliferated thanks to the converging technologies of telecommunications and computing. In the United States, numerous virtual communities exist in the form of bulletin boards, newsgroups, computer conferencing, etc. and have been expanding

Journalism Essay, Research Paper

The following paper was recently presented by Kamlesh Ramji


1. Abstract

In recent years, virtual communities have proliferated thanks to the converging technologies of telecommunications and computing. In the United States, numerous virtual communities exist in the form of bulletin boards, newsgroups, computer conferencing, etc. and have been expanding

its scope beyond the national boundaries. But, those virtual communities

originating in the United States carry heavy American-biased culture which

members often take for granted because of the long history of domination

in developing computer networks by American organizations. As examples

of alternative virtual cultures, this paper presents major virtual

communities in Japan which originated in Japan and mainly sustained by

people in Japan.

2. Introduction and Background

The convergence of telecommunication and computer technologies has enabled

networking of people regardless of their geographical and temporal

differences. The scope of such computer networks has been expanding

exponentially since the first extensive comp uter network, ARPANET, was

created in 1968 by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S.

Department of Defense (now DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects

Agency). Now its successor, Internet, comprises 1.7 million computers in

more than 1 25 countries (Stix, 1993); most of them at universities,

government agencies and companies. As such computer networks have

expanded beyond the small communities of scientific researchers and been

applied in a variety of fields such as education and busin ess,

communication through such computer networks is beginning to alter the

ways in which people interact with one another in formal and informal


2.1. Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)

The term, computer-mediated communication (CMC) or computer-based

communication, encompasses: computer networks, electronic mail, electronic

bulletin boards service (BBS), and computer conferencing. CMC has been

fairly well studied in educational setting s, as a supplemental to

traditional classroom teaching or as a deliverly mode of distance

education because of its distinct characteristics which make it different

from any other media. Poster (1990) notes that CMC substitutes writing

for spoken conversa tions and extends the domain of writing to cover areas

of communication that previously were limited to face-to-face

interactions, mail, and the telephone.

CMC, up to now, is mainly limited to textual communication where most of

the social cues are stripped off. People only see text on the computer

screen in standardized formats which contains no dynamic personal

information such as tones of one’s voice or

undescrivable facial expressions. ‘Phatic’ aspects of the face-to-face

conversation are minimal in CMC, which sometimes exacerbates communication

anxiety when the sender gets no reply (Feenberg, 1989).

The advantage of such text-based communication is that it reduces

discriminatory communication patterns based on physical and social cues

such as gender, race, socio-economic status, physical features, etc., and

enhances the interaction with one another.

As a result, CMC destabilizes existing hierarchies in relationships and

rehierarchize communications according to criteria that were previously

irrelevant (Poster, 1990). The text-based communication also augments the

interaction with ideas generated t hrough discussions. In CMC, people

tend to focus on the message more than the messenger, and the availability

of an archived transcript of the proceedings facilitates review of

previous comments and discussion, focusing on important ideas and


Another important aspect of this standardized texual communication is an

individual’s great control of his/her self image presented to other

people. In most cases, the only identity an individual user has is a

“handle” name which may be, and most often is expected to be, fictional.

Anonymity is complete and identity is fictionalized in the structure of

the communication. Poster (1990) contends that “computer conversations

construct a new configuration of the process of self-constitution.”

Communicate rs can compose themselves as characters in the process of

writing, inventing themselves from their feelings, their needs, their

ideas, their desires, their social position, their political views, their

economic circumstances, their family situation – thei r entire humanity.

In this sense, CMC is used for what Morioka (1993) calls “ishiki tsushin

(conscious communication)”. “Ishiki tsushin”, according to Morioka, is

the communication for the purpose of social interaction itself, which is

distinguised from “joho tsushin (info rmation communication)”. Goffman

(1959) argued that individuals deliberately “give” and inadvertently “give

off” signs that provide others with information about how to respond.

Because of its anonymous nature of CMC, communicators can manipulate image

s of themselves much better than in face-to-face situations and present

themselves anyway they want to be thought of. By doing so, people can

fulfil the unmet desire to be a person whom they want to be.

In one sense, CMC enhances the sense of personal freedom and individualism

by reducing the ‘existential’ engagement of the self in its communications

(Feenberg, 1989). On the other hand, Poster (1990) contends that the CMC

users are bounded in many ways:

first, to the new, computerized system of positioning subjects in symbolic

exchanges; second, by the prior constituting of the self, typically the

experience of that self as restricting, evoking the sense of transgression

when that self may be concealed o r suspended; finally to the language

used in the conversation, with all its semantic, ideological and cultural

specificity, a specificity which does not diminish when converted into

ASCII codes.

CMC is usually asynchronous although there are also some synchronous

applications. The advantage of asynchronous communications is that people

can read, reply or send messages at their convenience. It is not only a

matter of personal convenience; it mea ns communication crosses time as

well as space. Poster (1990) argues that CMC disperse the subject,

dislocating it temporally and spatially. CMC also has multiple-receiver

addressability. People can send a message to any number of people as long

as the receiver has access to the electronic community.

2.2. Virtual Communities

Marshall McLuhan (1964) said that the global media information networking

would make us live in a global village. Subsequently, Webber (1967)

argued the “nonplace community” which existed beyond any geographical

boundaries. According to Webber, the trad itional concept of

“communities” which is geographically bounded should be replaced by the

concept of “communities” of accessibility. Thanks to the modern

communication technologies, now communities can exist regardless of

members’ geographical locations . In Jessie Bernard’s (1973) terms, CMC

changes “the significance of space for human relationships. . . . we do

not need the concept of community at all to understand how a society

operates.” Hiltz and Turoff (1978) extends this view by saying that:

We will become the Network Nation, exchanging vast amounts of both

information and social-emotional communications with colleagues, friends,

and “strangers” who share similar interests. . . . we will become a

“global village” . . . An individual will, lit erally, be able to work,

shop, or be educated by or with persons anywhere in the nation or in the


CMC builds nonplace communities of common interests, affinity, and

association. They are called “online communities”, “electronic

communities”, or “virtual communities.” Those usually exist in the forms

of online discussion groups such as those found on

the global Internet and USENET computer networks, commercial videotex

systems, and personal computer bulletin boards. Such communities are

dynamic; many people come and go at any time in the life of a community.

There are two kinds of virtual commun ities. The first one is the

community where members know one another and usually have met

face-to-face. CMC (especially electronic mail) is used mainly to maintain

their routine communication, discuss issues relevant to the members, or

collaborate on so me projects. The second category is the community where

members do not necessarily know one another, but share common interests,

value systems, or goals. CMC (especially BBS and computer conferencing)

is used mainly to exchange information and ideas. T he major differences

of such virtual communities from traditional communities are: 1) the

freedom from geographical limitation; 2) the accessibility at one’s own

convenience; 3) the retrievability of information/messages; and 4) the

limitation of communicati ve acts to textual messages.

Those communities, however, are not entirely new and completely different

from traditional communities. Morioka (1993) argues that those virtual

communities are just the geographical expansion of traditional communities

in the sense that the members of a

communitiy use CMC as a means to discuss and exchange information instead

of meeting face-to-face.

In addition to the above mentioned communities, another kind of

communities exist in computer networks, which can be called “communities

of anonymity [ tokumeisei no komyuniti]” (Morioka, 1993). These

communities of anonymity are the communities whose me mbers are anonymous

and share virtual spaces for their self-expression which may not be

possible in the situation that they have to identify themselves. In such

virtual spaces, people play whatever role they want to play, knowing other

people are also p resenting created images of themselves. In many

computer bulletin boards, it is well known that some people use opposite

sex’s handle names (i.e., a man uses a female name or a woman uses a male

name) and play the role of the opposite sex to their own. I n such

communities, people enjoy the virtual aspects of communication per se.

In summary, there are basically three kinds of virtual communities: 1) the

ones totally overlapping with physical communities; 2) the ones

overlapping with physical communities to some degree; and 3) the ones

totally separated from physical communities.

3. Computer-Mediated Communication in Japan (Pasokon-Tsushin)

Most of the computer networks in early days started in the United States. In Japan which seems to be such a technologically advanced society, the computer-mediated communication has not been as prevalent as that in the U.S. According to Hiroshi Inose, director general of the National Center for Science Information Systems, Japan’s computer networks are estimated to be lag behind those of the U.S. by about 10 years (Hamilton, 1993). There are several reasons for the unpopularity of computer-mediated communication in Japan.

First of all, in business Japanese people still tend to rely on face-to-face communication instead of doing business through some mediated communications, mainly because of the high context culture of Japan where people tend to read between lines a lot w ith the help of social cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice, the posture, etc. In addition, as most business people in Japan do not have individual offices and have no need to use e-mail to contact others in the office, LAN has not been widely implemented. It has begun to be used only recently with the “downsizing” trend.

Secondly, unlike most parts of the U.S. where local telephone charge is a flat rate regardless of the number of calls and the total communication time, Japan’s local telephone service is charged per minute. It has discouraged people to have modems at hom e.

Thirdly, there have been a negative stereotypical image about people indulging in computer communications who are pejoratively called “Otaku-zoku” meaning unsociable home-bound people.

Lastly, the majority of average Japanese have never learned to use a keyboard; in addition, unlike typing English, typing Japanese requires additional key strokes for inputting by Roma-ji which is a way of transcribing Japanese phonetically into the Lati n alphabet, selecting appropriate Kanji, and shifting the mode of characters between Hiragana and Katakana. This may be the main reason why facsimile is more common than e-mails in business communication.

In Japan, there are two distinct realms of computer-mediated communication, each of which seems to have little interest in or awareness of the other. In the following, one realm called “pasokon tsuushin” is discribed followed by the other, “Internet”, re alm.

“Pasokon tsuushin” refers to public access BBSs and commercial online services to which personal computers at home or in offices are connected. Recently, such computer networks are gaining popularity among people who are not so-called “techie” and commer cial online services such as NIFTY-Serve of Fujitsu and PC-VAN of NEC (the two biggest commercial computer networks in Japan which have about 540,000 members and 578,000 members respectively in August, 1993) are showing a tremendous growth in their memers hip. NIFTY-Serve is affiliated with CompuServe in U.S. and members of NIFTY-Serve can have access to CompuServe without any additional fees. In a similar vain PC-VAN has an affiliation with GEIS (General Electric Information Services) and members of PC- VAN can have access to GEnie.

The number of total users of computer networks in Japan is estimated to be around 1,5 to 2 millions including some overlaps in membership (Nikkei Communications, 1993). Most of the commercial computer networks had not been interconnected, but recently ma jor ones began to be interconnected through their electronic services. Now both NIFTY-Serve and PC-VAN are connected to the Internet though connection is limited to the exchange of electronic mail messages.

According to a survey of 969 users of commercial computer networks (Kawakami, et al. 1993), the largest number of people answered that the motive of using the computer network was to obtain the information they want. However, it is noticeable that a larg e number of people also listed interpersonal communication (e.g., to exchange e-mails with friends, to have discussion with those who have same interests, to find a new friend, to express his/her own opinions and ideas, to communicate anonymously, etc.) a s the motive to use computer networks.

Recently, people in business also started to utilize such commercial computer networks for the communication with their customers such as user supports and product supports.

3.1. Communication Styles in Computer Conferencing

Among many services offered in computer networks, computer conferencing such as SIG (special interest group) and Forum is the most popular and thus the most profitable service for commercial network service providers (more than 60% of the total access tim e is dedicated to such conferencing). At present the PC-VAN has about 150 such SIGs and the NIFTY-Serve has approximately 290 Forums. A Forum or a SIG is further divided into several conferences of specific topics under a general theme of a particular F orum or SIG. Most participants of the Forums or SIGs use handle names so that anonymity is maintained for those who don’t want to disclose their personal identities. Moreover, in the NIFTY-Serve there is a function called “Home Party” where members crea te their own passwords for a particular party and set up a small informal meeting place. The number of members in a Home Party ranges from a few to over 100 during the last few years.

Those SIGs and Forums are managed by so-called SYSOP (system operator) or SIGOP (special interest group operator), who usually are computer network enthusiasts and volunteer to spare their time in running the confernces. Some SIGOPs are admitted to becom e one after applying for establishing a SIG; Some are entrusted by a network operation center; and others were asked by the previous ones. Those SIGOPs sometimes appoint sub-operators and board leaders as occasion demands. Usually there is no tangible reward for being a SIGOP/SYSOP. The degree of influence a SIGOP/SYSOP has on the nature of discussion in the SIG varies.

Because commercial networks are trying to avoid cancellation of membership by users as much as possible and most SIGS and Forums are moderated by SYSOPs or SIGOPs, discussions in these SIGS and Forums maintain relatively high quality and “flaming” message s are usually elimitated.

In those Japanese online communities, people who read messages in computer conferencing but do not usually reply are called ROM (read only members) (In U.S. those are called “lurkers”.) and those who actively participate in the conferences are called RAM (random access members or radical active

members). One study showed that 83% of the people who subscribed to a conference had never “spoken” and, among those who had spoken at least once, the two-third of them had spoken less than three times (Kawakami, 1993). It is common in computer conferencing that a few people speak a

lot while a majority of people only “listen.”

Kawakami (1993) listed six reasons why ROM outnumbered RAM a great deal:

1. reluctance to speak to people whom they don’t know; 2. resistance to participate in the group which has been already formed and developed without them; 3. lack of expertise to participate and fear of being evaluated by others; 4. difficulty of deciding to what extent they should disclose themselves to others; 5. worry of not knowing how clearly they make themselves understood; and 6. fear of getting criticism from others.

It should be noted that a ROM in one conference may be a RAM in another

conference and a RAM in one conference may be a ROM in another conference;

ROM and RAM are not the labels attached to individuals but the roles in

one particular conference.

3.2. Emoticon (Emotional Icon)

Because computer-mediated communication is basically texual communication which lacks in social and nonverbal cues seen in face-to-face conversations, unintended confrontation often occurs as the result of misunderstanding. One way to lessen this problem is the use of “emoticons” or “smileys” to complement the lack of social cues in CMC. Interestingly, smileys (or emoticons) used in Japanese

computer networks are a little different from those used in American or European networks, reflecting its unique culture.

typical smileys used in typical emoticons used in

U.S./European networks Japanese networks

Journalism Essay Research Paper The following paperregular smile (^_^) regular smile

Journalism Essay Research Paper The following papersad (^o^;>) Excuse me!

Journalism Essay Research Paper The following paperwink (^ ^;) cold sweat

Journalism Essay Research Paper The following paper) very happy (^o^) happy

Journalism Essay Research Paper The following paperWow! (*^o^*) exciting

Journalism Essay Research Paper The following paperGrim (_o_) I’m sorry

Journalism Essay Research Paper The following paper| anger (^ . ^) girl’s smile

Journalism Essay Research Paper The following papersmile with glasses (*^_^*;)sorry

:^) happy face (;_;) weeping

:^( unhappy (^_^;; awkward

As you see, smileys used in U.S./European networks have to be looked at sideways while emoticons used in Japanese networks are not. According to a study of the major nationwide noncommercial computer network in Japan, JUNET, by Nojima (1993), smileys are used to show (a) an affection or (b) that it’s meant as a joke. The use of smileys to indicate a joke is also common in American/European networks, but its use to show an affection without any specific indication is unique to Japanese networks. In add ition, Nojima also pointed out that sometimes smileys are used to apologize some possible offense.

In high context cultures such as Japanese which rely heavily on contextual cues to communicate, people tend to pay special attentions to the politeness, appropriateness, the non-offensiveness, etc. even in textual computer-mediated communications. It is debatable that the use of smileys and emoticons is the best way to compensate for the lack of contexual cues; however, it is true that such smileys and emoticons are the cultural products of virtual communities.

In addition to the emoticons, a variety of colloquialism such as dialects and infant languages, or vocalization of non-verbal behaviors are being employed to convey some contextual information which is difficult to be transmitted via text only.

3.3. On-Line and Off-Line Meetings

People who get to know one another through computer networks often gather physically as well. This is called off-line meetings (or Ohumi). Usually such off-line meetings are held within a specific SIG or Forum where the dates and places are posted and m embers reply to them indicating if they’re going to attend or not. Kuroiwa (1993) points out that most of the members who attend such off-line meetings are those who are active in having chat (real-time electronic conversation) in each SIG or Forum; not necessarily active in participating in the discussion of the SIG or Forum itself. He hypothesizes that it is because off-line meetings are considered to be the extension of online chat.

Both on-line chat and off-line meetings are the communication by those who share the same virtual or physical space at a particular moment. It is different from a regular on-line discussion which is asynchronous and where spontenaity is minimal. From a business perspective, off-line meetings are considred to highten the members’ sense of belongingness to the specific SIG or Forum which holds a meeting and strongthen the cohesiveness among its members. It usually results in the overall increase of part icipation in the SIG or Forum.

However, not all kinds of Forums or SIGs are holding such off-line meetings. Those Forums or SIGs whose main purpose is to exchange information such as computer-related ones usually don’t hold any off-line meetings. On the other hand, the Forums or SIGs relating to lighter subjects such as hobby, living, music, sports, etc. tend to hold off-line meetings.

Many people who attended those off-line meetings mentioned that they did not feel like meeting another member for the first time. This tendency seems to be stronger in this kinds of off-line meetings (face-to-face meetings after participating Forums or S IGs online) than in the meetings

held after some initial telephone conversations. Kuroiwa (1993) explains that it is because in CMC people discuss topics more in depth and rather informally. Sometimes a phenomenon called “network-high” (which has been discussed in the news group,, ) occurs when a newcomer to a computer conference such as a Forum or SIG becomes addicted to the conference.

4. Internet in Japan

Internet is the massive world-wide network of computers, comprising of thousands of smaller regional networks and connecting over 4 million users scattered throughout the globe . Although Internet is somewhat new in Japan, currently there are 21,252 Inte rnet hosts in Japan (Quarterman & Carl-Mitchell, 1993). Apart from the commercial networks such as the NIFTY-Serve and the PC-VAN, such Internet hosts in Japan provide academic communities with network infrastracture to facilitate collaboration and infor mation exchange among researchers and scholars. Unlike the Internet in U.S. which is gaining tremendous popularity even among those who are not within the academic communities, Internet in Japan is still somewhat limited to researchers in universities, people in research laboratories of consumer electronic or computer manufacturers, and students in computer scinece.

The advancement of Internet in Japan has been somewhat slow compared with that in the United States due to several reasons listed below.

1. Centralized computing has been dominant in Japan, used by banks, security houses and railway systems, etc., and even ministries like the Ministry of Education and the Agriculture Ministry have their own networks that are not linked to each other. 2. LAN has not been widely implemented in offices. Even those companies who have implemented LANs don’t have much interest in interconnecting with others. 3. Computer manufacturers in Japan such as IBM, Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC, and DEC have been using proprietary network protocols, which has made internetworking difficult. 4. The TCP/IP protocol has not been recognized as a standard protocol. 5. Routers have not been readily available with support and training in the Japanese language since most routers have been developed in U.S. and their design requires detailed knowledge of a variety of protocols. 6. Postal regulation and high cost of leased lines have not encouraged personal communication on networks. NTT has been making a big effort to make ISDN a nation-wide service while keeping leased lines relatively expensive. As a result, the ISDN service is available in most cities in Japan but the cost to use leased lines has been kept high. 7. With a population largely concentrated in a few urban centers in the same time zone, not much demand for delayed network communication. 8. There have been several incompatible methods of encoding Japanese texts (a 10,000 plus character system) into computers. (This is detailed in the following section.)

4.1. Japanese Encoding Methods

As mentioned above, one of the reasons why the advancement of Internet in Japan has been somewhat slow compared with that in the United States is because of the difficulty of handling Japanese text in computer networking. Since there are different encodi ng methods (JIS, Shift-JIS, and EUC) to input Japanese as well as different character sets, it is not as simple as using the ASCII character set to exchange Japanese texts between different machines.

JIS (Japanese Industrial Standards) encoding is being used for external

information interchange (i.e., moving information between computer

systems) such as e-mail since JIS encoding is not very efficient for

internal storage or processing on computer syst ems. JIS encoding makes

use of seven-bit for representing two-byte characters and escape sequences

to switch between one-byte seven-bit ASCII and two-byte seven-bit Kanji

character modes. All the Japanese texts which are composed with encoding

methods ot her than JIS have to be converted to JIS encoding before being

sent out as e-mail (Lunde, 1993).

Another encoding method, Shift-JIS encoding, was originally developed by ASCII Corporation in collaboration with Microsoft and is widely used as the internal code for Japanese PCs and KanjiTalk (the Japanese operating system for Apple Machintosh) as well as the millions of inexpensive portable Japanese language waapuro (word processors) that have flooded the market. It is a combination of a one-byte eight-bit code and a two-byte eight-bit kanji code, and uses no escape sequences. The conversion between Shift-JIS and JIS requires a complex algorithm (Lunde, 1993).

The third encoding method, EUC (Extended UNIX Code) was developed by AT&T UNIX Pacific and is implemented as the internal code for most UNIX workstations configured to support Japanese. EUC is a two-byte eight-bit code and supports not only Japanese but multiple character sets within a single text stream. Although EUC does not make use of escape sequences as JIS does, EUC encoding is closely related to JIS encoding and conversion between EUC and JIS is easier (Lunde, 1993).

4.2. N1net

The first attempt to build a nation-wide academic network, the N1 project, was started in 1974. With the support from the Ministry of Education, three universities (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Tohoku), a common carrier (NTT), and three computer manufacturers (Hita chi, Fujitsu and NEC) participated in the project. The N1 protocol developed in the project was modeled after the ARPANET protocol. This network was the very first WAN which employed the commercial packet-switching service called DDX -P, the domestic Ja panese X.25 network started by NTT in 1980 (Ishida, 1992).

At that time, encoding Japanese texts was still difficult and the

significance of electronic mails and news exchange facilities had not been

fully realized yet. Unlike the American counterpart, the N1net was a

resource-sharing network but not an interper sonal communication network.

On the other hand, the specification of the N1 protocol has been made

public and the N1 protocol became the only network protocol in widespread

use for linking heterogeneous computers (Ishida, 1992).

4.3. JUNET

JUNET (Japanese Unix NETwork) is the first nationwide noncommercial computer network designed for e-mail/e-news exchange. It was started experimentally in October 1984 by connecting two public universities (Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Tokyo Univer sity) and one private university (Keio University) through public telephone lines (at 9600bps) with UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy) protocol. JUNET utilizes UUCP connections instead of full IP connections and its services are basically limited to news and elec tronic mail. When JUNET began, international communications had to be in English or romanized Japanese, but later Kanji support in a windowed user interface to the messaging systems was included. Since then the amount of public traffic as well as JUNET membership has increased dramatically (Shapard, 1993). Subsequently the network has expanded throug