Mixi prepares for flood of baby-boomers

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Japan’s biggest social networking site, Mixi, is preparing for a flood of more mature users and a shake-up to its online demographics from next year as the country’s baby boomers begin to hit retirement age.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mixi’s president, Kenji Kasahara, said the invitation-only site had conducted online surveys and was convinced that baby-boomers were beginning to gravitate towards Mixi.

“We are working on the definite assumption that our demographics are going to change within the next two or three years as the baby-boomers join the service,” he said. “Membership of Mixi is by invitation only, and we think that style of website will suit that generation. The number of baby-boomer users will rise sharply.”

The Japanese company’s ambitions to lure retirees come as MySpace, the US social networking site bought last year by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, seeks to establish a foothold in the country. MySpace last month announced a tie-up with Softbank, the Japanese internet and telecommunications group, that would see the service offered to mobile users throughout the country.

Such a service is already offered by Mixi. Moreover, the move to target retirees would see it expand a user pool now dominated by professionals in their 20s and 30s. Almost 80 per cent of Mixi’s users are now aged between 20 and 34, according to the company.

Mr Kasahara expects the retirees to be energetic users of Mixi whether it is as up-loaders of travel pictures and blog-style diaries or as organisers and members of online communities.

Japanese internet users have been logging on to join online communities both via their mobile phones and their PCs for years. Especially popular with retirees, analysts say, are likely to be Mixi’s online communities – groups that form as former classmates, company colleagues and people with shared interest gather to share information.

As the leader in the boom of social networking sites in Japan, Mixi is now the country’s second most visited website after Yahoo. It already has 6.5m members. Between them, those members have generated 900,000 online communities sharing diverse interests such as “sky watching” and “love of sleep”. In some cases, these communities boast more than 50,000 active visitors.

In common with the current membership of Mixi the older wave of users is expected to divide its time online between home PCs and mobile phones. The largest of the Japanese mobile networks, NTT DoCoMo has released a handset that targets older users, with a large, high-definition screen and large buttons to make navigation simpler.

About 6.8m Japanese will celebrate their 60th birthdays over the next three years, with 60 the retirement age for many civil servants and employees of small and medium-sized Japanese companies.

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