Facebook is not particularly popular in Japan. But this highly connected nation is no stranger to social networking. In fact, Mixi (news, site), one of the more popular networks, is adding a system for easy tagging of real-world items using Near Field Communication.

NFC as a Flexible Communication Protocol

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a wireless protocol for close-in communication between mobile devices. One might compare it to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but NFC is significantly lower-powered and has a very short range. However, this doesn't mean that NFC is less useful.

NFC activates when you tap two NFC-enabled devices together. For instance, if you have two NFC-enabled smartphones, you can share information by tapping them together, or bringing the two gadgets within an inch of each other. NFC is also useful in point-of-sale situations, in which a user's mobile wallet can be used to pay for purchases.

One inherent advantage of NFC is the use of passive receivers or transponders, which can be powered by the active "initiator" by use of radio waves. This way, NFC technology can be embedded in stickers, tags and other small items that don't require batteries. And this is just what Mixi is taking advantage of.

Mixi Takes Advantage of Real-World Tagging

In 2010, Mixi added two features that let members share items and information within its network. Mixi Check In works like Google Latitude, Foursquare or Facebook Places. This feature lets users check into a location, which is shared with contacts. Mixi Check works like Facebook Share, which lets users share any piece of information with online friends.


Mixi Real Check Demonstration


Mixi is adding NFC functionality to these two features, which means users can now tap on real-world items that support NFC, and information will be shared accordingly.

Mixi Real Check In lets users check into a location by tapping on an NFC-enabled sticker or tag. Because the location is defined on the NFC tag, the smartphone will not need location data from GPS, which doesn't work well indoors. The NFC tag can also include URLs, store information or other details that a user's friends might find useful.

Meanwhile, Mixi Real Check lets users share information on a tagged item by tapping or waving one's smartphone. This could be a book, promotional poster, retail item or almost any real-world object that can hold a sticker or a tag.

Support for NFC Devices

Mixi will need establishments to support the network using NFC tags, which usually cost 50 cents apiece or less. However, the bigger hurdle could be the availability of NFC-enabled smartphones to Japanese mobile users.

While Taglet, an Android application for NFC, was introduced earlier, not many Android smartphones come with NFC functionality built-in. Several Nokia, LG and Samsung phones have NFC support, but only the upcoming Google Nexus S comes with NFC, and the handset is not even officially available to Japanese consumers yet.

But there's hope yet for NFC's wide adoption. The Open NFC Project involves "a portable software stack implementing NFC functionalities on top of a NFC hardware." This solves the difficulty of integrating NFC functionality into different kinds of hardware. Philippie Martineau, executive VP at Inside Secure, one of the companies working on the Open NFC Standard, says the software stack will make it easier for manufacturers and developers to integrate NFC into their devices.

Open NFC relies on a separate, very thin and easily adaptable hardware abstraction software layer, which accounts for a very small percentage of the total stack code, meaning that the Open NFC software stack can be easily leveraged for different NFC chip hardware.

NFC adds a new dimension to mobile and social networking. Information can be shared through mobile devices and social networks using snapshots and typed-in text. But being able to tap items adds to the ease and accessibility factor, which is important while on the go.