I use both Twitter and Sina Weibo quite a bit. As I prefer reading in English and not having my tweets censored, I tend to spend a bit more time on Twitter, but I think even the most diehard Twitter addicts would have to admit that Sina Weibo’s user experience is just better. And you know what? Twitter should copy (more) parts of it.
I’m not saying anything new, of course; people have been saying things to this effect more or less since Sina Weibo launched. Anyone who has really peeked under the hood realizes that Sina’s service is less a Twitter clone and more an evolution of it, and I’m wondering what’s stopping Twitter from following suit. Certainly at this point, it’s not like Twitter hasn’t had enough time. Is it pride? Because if so, Twitter, be aware that no one cares. Sure, people will make jokes for a few days, but then the jokes will die down and they’ll realize they enjoy Twitter more because the UX has been improved. Perhaps they’ll even spend more time on it. No one is ever going to be mad for long that you improved your service’s user experience.
So what should Twitter actually do? The first thing it needs to learn from Weibo is seamless image, video, and audio embedding. I know that Twitter can do some of those things now, but let’s face it, it’s kind of a mess. For example, viewing an image under the current system involves opening a whole new page if you want to see the image in full size. Images can be displayed in the tweet stream, but there’s no preview thumbnail and the size of the images displayed is usually too small to really see what’s going on when they’re viewed in-stream. (Or maybe I just need new glasses). There’s not even an option for uploading video or audio to embed. Sure, using a separate service to upload and then providing a link is easy enough — and it saves Twitter a ton in bandwidth costs, I’m sure — but it also directs people away from Twitter. Sina’s integrated approach means that the whole discussion, including the multimedia sources, happens within Sina Weibo, and that makes for a very smooth experience on the user end.
I also think Twitter should integrate, and even improve on, Sina Weibo’s comment system. Allowing comments on tweets means that Weibo plays host to more discussions. That, of course, makes it a great platform for trolling and petty squabbles, but it also works well for reasoned debate. You can follow a similar kind of comment thread through a maze of @ replies on Twitter, but it’s not as easy to do. I think there ought to be a way to give Twitter the clear, direct presentation of Sina’s comment system without things getting overly complex. How about it, Twitter? Have you got the guts to be called a copycat in the service of improving things for your users?
In the interest of fairness, I should also briefly mention a few things I wish Sina would copy from Twitter. My first wish is of course that Sina Weibo be uncensored, though that’s not legally possible. I do wish, however, that Sina would tone it down. When you find yourself blocking searches for “truth,” things have gone too far. Additionally, I think Sina could learn something from Twitter’s global appeal. I really like that on Twitter I can read what people are saying everywhere from Japan to the US to Egypt. On Sina Weibo, you mostly just see what people are saying in China. Granted, there are a bunch of reasons for that, and not all of them are in Sina’s control. But at present, the service only offers two language options: Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. That’s not exactly conducive to building a global discussion platform. Perhaps Sina doesn’t want a global platform, but this weakness means that on some issues, Sina Weibo becomes essentially a nationalist echo chamber. That’s not cool. As far as I see it, more perspectives is almost always a good thing. Whatever happened to the English interface you promised us, Sina?