Last week a new sort of web 2.0 application was launched in Japan. Web-Kare (Web-Boyfriend) is a social networking site for Japanese girls, which allows the girls to date a virtual boyfriend. There are four cartoon boys to choose from, and by interacting and flirting with these virtual boys, a relationship with one of them can be created. According to TechCrunch the site ‘..is a huge hit over here [Japan]..’, quite a bold statement if we note that the ten thousand members are part of a country where 130 million people live. But the concept is very interesting however.
Altough the boyfriends will not pass the Turing Test due to lack of vocabulary, they do give an airy-fairy way to fulfill certain needs adolescent girls have. By offering insight in the way other people act (social network aspect), a validation can be found for the participant’s own behaviour. Especially for youngsters this is an important notion. The fact that you can work on your progressing virtual relationship, makes it possible to reflect on this process in a positive way; the boyfriend wants you more and more. This could have a positive effect on the girl’s selfesteem.
The site offers a safe and simple platform for girls to experiment with their sexual feelings. By creating an institution in the form of a site, these needs are normalized and therefore easier to express. A site that functions as an institution for these needs, could have great potential to grow out to a worldwide phenomenon. The mix between a virtual dating site and a social network site is a new concept that gives the web 2.0 it’s creative and interactive character. Kudos for the originality!
Unfortunately the site is only available in Japanese. Also the anime boyfriends are designed to attract Japanese girls, which results in the possibility that western boys instead of girls will fall for the thin cheek lines the feminine boys sensibly smile with. This form is of course changeable to western images, the question is rather if the western people will fall for a cartoon character. But would it be honest to think we wouldn’t? Maybe we’re just behind..