Former Google Glass challenger re-invents social networking app but not to meet

Former Google Glass challenger re-invents social networking app but not to meet

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Doki Doki CEO Takahito Iguchi is seated second from the left.

See the original story in Japanese.

(Photographs in this articles are provided by Doki Doki for the most part.)

Sekai Camera, Tab, Telepathy… the apps and devices made by this man has always been novel. Establishing another startup called Doki Doki last year and raising funds from Skyland Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures and Umeda Startup Fund earlier this year, “this man” — Takahito Iguchi — seemed to have wanted to start something different. He implied as much upon commencing development of an app for voice-based information sharing at Samurai Island Expo ’16 (SIE ’16), but the details were not specified then.

Doki Doki pre-launched voice-chat social app Baby in the US last month, and held the app’s first showcase event in Japan at MTRL Kyoto (pronounced “Material Kyoto”). The app is available for iOS or later, and currently only with English (but no restriction as to input language). You can download it only from US iTunes AppStore, so it is available for anyone who has an US iTunes AppStore account.

Social app to chat, not to meet

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Baby is a social app which allows users to share five-second voice messages and lets them chat with a new friend. The voice messages (aptly-named “voice”) from other users who are located nearby him / her are run on a timeline (dubbed “parade”), and one may “ping” favorite messages by right flicking or “ban” undesirable messages by left flicking, as with Tinder. If users ping voices to each others, they become friends and are allowed to have private voice chat rather than via parade. Users can check ten messages from other users in the order of proximity from him / her at one loading.

Iguchi explains the concept of the Baby app:

By being nearby each other, several problems can be solved. First of all, language trouble. Even if it were a worldwide service, there is a high probability that users being nearby converse in a common language. Considering the places or events where the users are located, common topics could be found as well.

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Typical social apps can be roughly classified into two types: ones that let users who already met offline to meet online (such as Facebook or Line) and ones that let users who have not met yet to meet online / offline. However, although the Baby app allows user to find new friends online in order to share values or topics, it does not expect an offline meeting to take place, as in the case of a “dating” social app. The development of the app is grounded in Iguchi’s experience.

Iguchi explains how the service originated:

In San Francisco where I frequently stayed, I always felt alone. Was happy just to talk with someone. Having said that, I do not have close relationships with all friends in Facebook to allow me to talk freely. It is not easy to find new friends, or will cost in various ways if I did have a new friend. Many of the communication apps including Tinder or Happen apparently aim to just help arrange direct datinG […]

We had another problem, seen in HangOut or Whatsapp as well. In real-time voice communication, it is difficult to adjust idle time for each other. Therefore, I came up with an idea of dividing the time into five seconds and sharing them as short voice messages […]

Baby is regarded as an intermediate service between the text chat and the telephone. You cannot express your emotion by text, right? It cannot provide satisfaction or any feeling provided upon conversing, and thus cannot solve loneliness or ease pain. Phone communication is troublesome, so I looked to solve the problem. I prepared both public chats (the parade function) and private chats, so users can share their feelings albeit asynchronously.

Baby’s roots are found in San Francisco and Kyoto

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Sawako Ono, Business Development Manager/Market at Doki Doki, recording her voice into the Baby app

This spring, Sawako Ono joined the Doki Doki team as a marketer. By conducting repeated hearings on students at UC Berkeley and reflecting said results on the Baby app’s function, she played a central role in realizing a service with a high degree of user satisfaction.

Ono analyzes the needs for the app:

tudents are all busy. Although busy, they want to communicate with someone through participation in some kind of community or party. Baby just matched their purpose. Some students had used the Nearby function of Wechat, but it only attracts users with dating in mind.

As an aside, no showcase event for the app has not been held in Tokyo unlike launch events of typical apps or services. Moreover, the app is not available in JP AppStore, so that the team’s attitude toward media / users appears unfriendly even though it is an opportunity to appeal to the Japanese users. At first glance it was thought to perhaps be a new type of marketing strategy set by Iguchi, but it turned out to be happenstance.

Iguchi explains the reason for service limitations in Japan:

We started prototyping Baby last December. When brought the prototype to San Francisco this May, I got a pretty good feedback, especially from men. I also had fun. What Baby can provide and the conventional apps cannot is “new meeting” with opportunities to find real friends.

Will it be available in Japan too? Of course it is, if you download from the US AppStore. But you may not receive much voice on parade due to the limited number of users in Japan at this time. I plan to establish use cases in the US first, then bring them back to Japan when completed.

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The character of Baby, with changes in facial expression to voice tones or pitches.

Through the development of the Baby app, Iguchi is also considering linking startups communities in Kyoto and San Francisco. Not only because of his background of having spent his school days in Kyoto (he majored in philosophy at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto), he explains the reason that this city has a similar atmosphere with San Francisco which he finds dear.

He said:

Some VC firms are headquartered in Kyoto and have started business therein. Besides, most of Japanese culture which attracts inbound tourists seemingly can be found concentrated in Kyoto. In a city rich in capital, culture and academia, I feel I can start something new.

There will be lots of San Francisco workers hoping to work in Kyoto. Conversely, there will be cases which Kyoto startups looking to use San Francisco as a gateway. Kyoto has the most art schools in Japan, in addition to many universities suited for research and development, not to mention having freaks like me around.

See also:

To itself become a platform

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An interesting point of the app is that it does not cooperate with Facebook or Twitter as typical communication apps do, but is completely dependent upon the network effect among users for improved user inflow. This specification is not just a chance happening but was greatly influenced by Iguchi’s philosophy as well.

I thought that Japanese people should establish their own communication platform by themselves. Not a few Japanese startups use API provided by major services in Silicon Valley upon starting something toward the global market. They are too careless, following blindly after someone’s service, such as Facebook or Line.

I think that it is important for us not only to use “Silicon Valley APIs”  (APIs provided by tech giants in Silicon Valley) but have a platform for ourselves too.

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In the past, some startups were forced to withdraw from native app business for iOS due to being shut out from the iTunes AppStore. That news suggested that there is always a risk of unexpected business closing against one’s will as long as one is dependent upon app stores on a third-party platform.

Come to think of it, since it has become a convenient era, it may be important especially for startups intending to compete in the global market to become platformers themselves without using an API.

By not considering online meeting while using media of voice as an ultimate context, can it grow into a global communication platform? We can look forward to the day when the Baby app become readily available in Japan.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy