“AKB48 and Google+ have a lot in common. Only psychologically stunted, obsessive-compulsive geeks understand how they work.”
- Some famous dude
For many fans, their first memory of the AKB48/Google+ launch was the futility of trying to submit comments as the Google servers got hammered. Or perhaps, prior to that, signing up/reactivating G+ accounts that were otherwise useless because everyone was still on Facebook or Twitter.
But now that the smoke has cleared (and people can comment on the girls’ posts like normal human beings), the online landscape has shifted dramatically.
One week ago, a livestreamed press conference helmed by 48-Boss Yasushi Akimoto himself delivered a lot of talk and promises (and at least one stretch of second-hand embarrassment as Google’s English-speaking representative touted the perks of the G+ service). And while many of those promises are yet to be fulfilled—I’ll believe in a livestreamed concert or stage show when I see it, and apparently Hangouts only work if you have about 9 fans (hi Sawako)—the simpler aspects of the network have already begun to crystallize into a unique fan-to-idol infrastructure.
One of the core tenets of the ~48 system, aside from “idols you can meet,” is that “there’s so freaking many of them.” As the group’s influence and popularity has grown, however, it has become harder to keep things straight, especially as far as Internet outreach. Some of the girls get signed to outside talent agencies that set up blogs and Twitter accounts for them (or not), some of them just go ahead and set up an online presence anyway (or not), some have solo blogs and some have group blogs, some are on Ameba and some are not. There’s even a junk trail of AKB detritus, like unused Ameba pages connected to Pigg avatars and promotional Twitter accounts long since silent (where have you gone, Teams PB and YJ?) that lie scattered across the online wastelands.
Enter Google Plus. Or as I like to call it, AKBoogle+.
AKBoogle+ represents the great tidying-up of the Internets48, and even invites the n00blets of NMB48 and HKT48 into the mix. What was once a distracting, internet-hopping chore—open up Twitter for Haruna and Mariko, stop by the no3b blog, check in with Myao and Sumire at HoriPro, browse a pic loader (or Tumblr, even) for the latest cell phone snaps—has been centralized into a single, perpetually-updating page: the Google+ stream. It’s as simple as getting an account, picking which girls you want to follow (and don’t forget to add the “AKB Kids’ Room” account for all the under-18′s), and checking the G+ stream regularly. No more having to bookmark multiple sites and social networks: if everything is up and running properly, then AKBoogle+ is, in theory, all you’ll ever need to stalk your idols’ day-to-day activities.
The key phrase here is in theory. Although the commenting snafu has been fixed (note to Google server admins: in case you haven’t noticed by now, this is whatchamacallit48 Japan crap is really popular in certain pockets), the AKBoogle+ network remains a work in progress. Certain usage patterns are starting emerge: Acchan has instantly fallen in love with G+ and is spamming at every opportunity, others are playing around with the ease of media sharing (Team 4′s Shimada and Nakamata flooded everyone with adorable penguin cosplays last week), some of the members with Twitter accounts are cross-posting out of convenience (and then Sumire kinda freaked out because apparently she hadn’t introduced herself on G+ properly), some are using it mostly to signal their good mornings and goodnights, and … well … MY WIFE has used it in sporadic outbursts but hasn’t been as regular as the others. Maybe she just prefers the Ameba interface, as she continues to post regularly on the No Sleeves blog.
That will be one of the ongoing questions as AKBoogle+ gets itself off the ground: How much or how little are the girls supposed to use it? For those who already have an online presence elsewhere, they may see it as a time-consuming redundancy—Why do I have to post on this when I already updated my Ameblo? For the social networkers, at least, they’ve discovered cross-posting functions that will automatically put up tweets and accompanying photos, thus keeping the G+ accounts active. The best use of AKBoogle+, it seems, is as a half-blog half-social network: You can have more than 140 characters, but you don’t need to go into paragraphic detail about everything you’ve done the past few hours. Just a quick snapshot and a couple of descriptive lines works best. (Post one KojiYuu pic and watch the comments fly! It’s a shame G+ has a 500 comment limit, because I bet they could outpace Kpop blogs and Facebook walls within hours.)
So in the end, who wins? Almost everybody:
The ~48 System: The girls get a new online toy to play with, and the haphazard blog distribution is now straightened out by one all-encompassing network: EVERY member over 18 gets their own personal G+ account, while all the babies get to pass around the smartphone that’s used for posting to the Kids’ Room account.
The less popular members and n00blets stand to benefit the most from this, because they now have a platform where they can get a fair amount of “screen time”—and if HKT48′s Yui Komori (or whoever) wants to hog the G+ by posting 4 times in one day, she totally can, and put herself in everyone’s view.
The Fans: Assuming you can read simple Japanese, or know how to pass things through an online translator, this is a new avenue for the 48 Experience. Like mentioned before, it’s not quite a blog, not quite a Twitter, but what it is, is a lot of fun. Sometimes the girls reply to each other’s posts, resulting in candid interactions you might not catch on a static blog account. (Seen on a Miyuki Watanabe post: “Night night Milky.” “Go to sleep, Ayaka.”)
As an unexpected bonus, I’ve also found myself encountering members I might not have otherwise gotten to know about. The thing about following one’s specific faves—especially if you’re a well-established fan—is that you get locked in on those particular girls and are blindered to anyone else that might be appealing. (Or if you want to get to know other members, it can be a real chore hunting through the Internettes and finding specific media where they are featured.) Now, just by letting the Kids’ Room account scroll by, new names and faces drop in constantly, and ohmigah does anyone know where I can buy Anna Murashige photos.
Google: Okay, admit it, how many of you signed up for Google+ or brushed the dust off your Google+ account when AKBoogle+ was announced? That’s what I thought. This dying social network has just gotten a MASSIVE shot in the arm, not just from Japan, but from AKB fans all around the world, who probably find Google services more accessible than those moonspeak internet services where you have to fill in all the forms in Japanese. This may also have a knock-on effect where, let’s say AKB Superfandude joined G+ so he could stalk Tomomi Itano, and then he tells his 5 Casual Fan friends that they should get on it as well (yes this is a miracle hypothetical world where AKB wotas actually have friends), and then the 5 Casuals tell a bunch of other friends who may not even be interested in AKB48 to come join G+ just because they’re on it.
1. Get people to sign up on Google+ because AKB
Samsung: The unheralded winner of this entire deal may be the company that just sold dozens of new Galaxy S II LTE smartphones to Japan’s biggest idol conglomerate. “Hey, we have a bunch of girls here who need Googlephones for their new social networking accounts, what’ve you got?” Who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to make a sale like that? It’s like making a corporate bulk order, only famous. So you throw them the best you have to offer—photos, videos, data connection, BOOM! So simple even an idol can use it! $200 discount with a 2-year contract! Then cross your arms and rake in the dough.
And just think, you even have a chance to sell replacement units when someone does something stupid like drop her phone in the toilet.
Ameba?: The entity that stands to lose the most from this may be Ameba and other Moonspeak social networks, as the pop-culture gravity of the AKBlack Hole pulls Japanese users into the Google Vortex. It’s no secret that Japan has evolved its own social internet infrastructure, with names like Ameba/yaplog/mixi/GREE that are familiar locally but practically unknown outside of their native land. But if news items like the Balse Incident are any indication, Japan is joining the rest of the world as far as social networking—first hopping on Twitter, and now getting aboard G+ with the AKB bandwagon. If Acchan decides she’d rather update more on AKBoogle+ than Ameba—especially considering that her Ameba blog is constantly tops among celebrity blogs on the site—what does that spell for Ameba traffic?…
The launch of AKBoogle+ has transformed this little province of Google+ from a deserted two-lane road into a bustling superhighway. Even after the initial spike of interest, there’s still plenty of traffic on the network: the moment a new post pops up, you can see the comments come streaming in, and new users are still continuing to sign up. While it’s too early to call anything a success or failure, one certainty remains true: We are all giddily anticipating the moment Miori Ichikawa turns 18 and gets her own account.
It’ll be the freshest, lemon-iest G+ account ever.