The most popular professional social network in the world is most likely LinkedIn. It came to the Japanese market in late 2011, and while several other business networking services were launched in the country, they are all still having a relatively tough time. But there’s another service turning some heads by building a business-oriented social network here in Japan. It’s called Eight.
Sansan, the startup behind the service, announced on Monday that it has deployed a major update to its application. The app is available for the iOS and Android, and it has surpassed the 200,000 users milestone, not an insignificant feat.
The Eight app was launched back in February of 2012, allowing users to manage their contact lists by taking pictures of business cards with their smartphone. In terms of differentiation from other services, the Eight app does not use OCR (optical character recognition) but actually hires operators who enter your business contacts into the system for you. They will enter not only information like names, e-mail addresses, and company names, etc, but all the information shown on a business card.
The app is not just for managing your business cards, but it is also seen as a business social network that allows you to exchange business information over the internet. Based on several criteria, the system will find someone you might be connected with in real life and encourage you to exchange your business card with them. On Linkedin, you might have a contact request from someone that you’ve never seen before. But the Eight app works by referring to just business cards you’ve exchanged in the past, so you would receive contact requests only from those you’ve already met.
We had an opportunity to hear from Naotake Hibiya and Hiroshi Edward Senju of Sansan. Senju explains:
I think a social network based on business cards is new. 200,000 people are using it, and we’ve seen rapid user growth especially in March and April. For future upgrades, we intend to create a business culture that encourages people to connect with each other based on their backgrounds or their existing contacts.
They are currently working on a new feature to let users virtually exchange cards on the app simply by entering a contact’s phone number. However, if the contact has no account on the Eight app or has signed up with an e-mail address different from the one shown on his business cards, the system may unintentionally send a connection request e-mail.
While other online professional networks are exploring another ways to survive, it is interesting to see how the Eight app has proposed this unique answer in a country where business cards are so important.