by Mizuko Ito
Juergen Specht is a photographer who is mixing Germany Ireland and Japan to make Nooper - a nimble mobile software developer and mobile culture exporter from Tokyo.
First part: Background
in his own words:
me and my first girlfriend (5 years old)
With 12 years I borrowed a much too big black leather jacket and dark sunglasses to enter a cinema and see my first 'adult' movie: Godzilla. Today I am sure that I looked like a 12 year old with a too big black leather jacket, but at this time I thought I went through as adult.
Godzilla was my very first contact with Japan. "Wow, they have great monsters over there!" was what I thought.
14 years old. I started a on and off relationship with photography
About 1980 I came in contact with computers and was completely hooked, but it took me 3 more years to finally afford my own. So I dropped out of school, worked hard and bought a Commodore 64.
Since I was a permanent visitor in the only local computer shop, it took not long until I suddenly worked there and 2 years later I was the general manager of the first branch we opened.
7 months later, I was about 20, I realized that I have to see the world first before I settle down and work in a shop for the rest of my life. So I moved to West Berlin and had quite a lot of jobs: I developed prototypes of tactile enabled industrial robots, photographed bands and fashion, organized concerts and parties and ended up managing a strange live club named "BlockShock".
This career ended after the singer of the Goth band "Christian Death" threatened to kill me, while the owner of the club threatened to marry me. I gave up and took some time off cruising the Mediterranean sea with a sailboat and some good friends.
I came back to Berlin and started to work as technician for a pretty famous comedy group called "Trio Blamage". We toured all of Germany and much of Europe and it was great fun for a while, but seeing all of Germany didn't really made this country more sympathetic, so I took another time off and sailed across the Atlantic ocean into the Caribbean sea and South America.
Much, much later I came back and decided to do something totally different, but again ended up managing a club, the legendary SO36 in Berlin, Kreuzberg.
But this was just an interim step for founding my first official company "Media-Link" in 1993. The main concept behind Media-Link was the non- specialization, so I installed and maintained networks for companies, created a secure mail based information system for the European Union and created computer graphics and digital video clips for artists.
At this pre-Internet time I realized that artists have a huge demand for logistics and they work very unusual hours. A BBS system named "KULTURBOX" was my answer. KULTURBOX was soon in all media and helped more than 2,000 artists in Germany to communicate, to organize and to share valuable information. In 1994 my new Partner Ingo Braun joined KULTURBOX and we made the next step: Bringing the KULTURBOX on the Internet. But it was early 1995 and the German Internet was just used by about 200,000 people, while most of them were students. So we targeted the international audience and convinced the yearly international Film Festival "Berlinale" to be our first Internet presentation.
The first online Berlinale was a huge but expensive success and motivated as we were, we decided to ask the artists Christo & Jeanne Claude to present their planned project "Wrapped Reichstag" also. To our surprise, they gave us the worldwide exclusive rights to present their work live in the Internet.
In June 1995 after just 6 weeks and with 30 voluntarily helpers, Europe's biggest Internet project at this time went online: a bilingual information system around the Wrapped Reichstag.
KULTURBOX was a huge success and we got famous. So the next logical step was to found a consulting/development company out of KULTURBOX.
One of the side projects I developed for the Wrapped Reichstag project was a simple and convenient city map service, which is, 8 years later and with new owners, still online.
me and my first (and only) Cadillac 1991 in California (somehow strangely distorted this picture)
The Tamagotchi and a invitation from NTT to present my city map service brought me the very first time to Tokyo.
I was so fascinated of Tokyo that I directly went into the next shop, bought a new camera and my love for photography was re-born.
In 1998 I saw demand for a commercial "rent-a-list" service in Germany and founded the list hosting project KBX.de. In just 6 weeks the service attracted 10,000 subscribers and started to pay for itself. I sold the service much too early to a local ISP and signed a one year consulting contract to care about this service.
This was also the time where my partner and I decided to split up, to sell KULTURBOX and the various projects and to move on.
While in 1999 Germans Internet population went up to 10,000,000 people, KBX.de attracted alone 2,500,000 subscribed users and was at this time one of the most known services on Germans Internet. This could not hold me back and I semi-retired and moved in October 1999 finally and permanent to Tokyo.
The first half a year I did not do much except photographing, founded the Digital Photography Community "D1scussion" and did some IT consulting, but the Keitai revolution just started and I wanted to create a new useful service for mobile users. Fortunately I met a like minded guy named Thomas O'Dowd and we started our new company "Nooper.com - Mobile Service Inc" in October 2000.
Finally March 13th 2003 Nooper was born. We have big plans with Nooper.
Second Part: Quick Q & A
Can you tell us one story about when your chanpon background helped you?
Basically I have the feeling it always helps me, because I am not supposed to play by the "rules" and have more freedom in my actions.
Can you tell use one story about when your chanpon background hurt you?
Unfortunately yes. In the last 3,5 years I never felt any open discrimination around me. But this feeling stopped as I just recently looked for a new apartment...it seems that landlords prefer strange animals over gaijin.
What do you miss most about Japan when you are away?
The food, the courtesy, politeness and service. The public transportation system. My Keitai.
What do miss most about the Ireland/Germany when you are in Japan?
The space of my former apartment in Berlin, Germany. I was able to drive bicycle in it.
What makes you feel Japanese?
If I start to bow while I am talking on the phone.
What makes you feel you aren't Japanese?
I never really feel Japanese, but I also never really feel German. I more feel like somebody who lives in the country I want to be.
Third Part: Interview
MI: Mimi Ito, JH: Justin Hall
MI: Did you have any prior relationship to Japan before your work starting Nooper?
an experimental self portrait circa 1988
MI: Your "Showcase of Japanese Keitai Culture" has become the primary source of keitai related images for the English language press. Do you have any stories to share about the showcase and your role at the interface of Japanese and international mobile culture?
JS: The Showcase of Japanese Keitai Culture is more of an accident. To create a new service you have to know what's out there, to observe the Keitai phenomena and see what people like and do with their Keitai. Since I like to photograph, I just combined my 2 interests and used it on our company web site, because company web sites are normally pretty boring.
To our surprise the showcase got already slashdotted 3 times and the pictures traveled all over the planet and got printed in about 200 magazines and newspapers already.
The positive side effect of the showcase are new customers who hire us for consulting, the more amusing side effect is that we receive permanent emails from people who actually think we sell phones. D'oh.
JH: In part through your site, and the Keitai-L list and numerous journalists, Japan's mobile technology is a popular subject. What do you think mobile technology in Japan represents for people outside of Japan?
JS: This is a very difficult question and I can not give you a generic answer...
Basically from visitors outside of Japan, I saw all kind of reactions:
Envy (Why don't we have this?), Anger (Our phones are much, much better), Fascination (I want it!!!), etc.
I believe you can find a better answer if you follow the threads about our showcase in Slashdot: "The Gadgets of Tomorrow," "New Prototypes, Gadgets And Devices From CEATE" and "Visual Showcase Of Japanese Mobiles."
JH: You are an active photographer in Japan. What is that like? Is it any different to take pictures in Japan, instead of other parts of the world?
JS: Yes, very much. It is actually great fun photographing in Japan for a
variety of reasons. First of all, photography is part of the society
and I read somewhere a statistic that every Japanese owns 2 cameras average. This makes about 240 million cameras.
So taking a camera with you wherever you go is not considered weird, but pretty much normal.
I take on and off pictures since more than 20 years, but after a long break, my love for photography came back with my first visit to Tokyo in 1997. Since then I am totally hooked and produced more than 100,000 photos since I live in Japan.
What I love about photography is that Japan is a perfectly visual country and I photograph just about everything. But working with Japanese models, make-up artists and fashion designers is a extremely nice and creative experience.
JH: Do you expect to spend the rest of your days living in Japan?
taken in an Onsen
Lately I noticed that I don't know much about other Asian countries and China fascinates me...so maybe one day I end up there? Who knows?
JH: What are your plans with Nooper?
JS: Nooper now gets more user and media attraction and it looks like also business attraction. We hope to license the technology which powers Nooper now to some companies which have an immediate need for an mobile content delivery agent.
Basically we want to grow slowly and consistently and on our way add a lot of new and cool features to Nooper. For example mobile Blogs, which are really cross published: on phones, on the web and as feeds.
Imagine you tell somebody in a bar about your Blog, but instead of showing it, you have to write down the URL because your opposite has no immediate access to a web browser. If he/she ever visits your URL is a matter of how well the person is sold on your idea or how curious he/she is.
With Nooper you simply subscribe your Blog on his/her phone and he/she has immediately access to it. Including images.
Sure, this makes only sense in Japan and not in North America (yet).
Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2003年05月21日 01:37