In 2006, Twitter introduced a new way people communicate and interact. In the following year, the same concept was brought to China by a few Twitter-like services, Fanfou being one of the most influential. However, microblogging did not really catch on in the country until 2009, when most of China’s mainstream websites introduced their own microblog services. We’ve written extensively about a number of these ‘weibo‘ over the past year or two, most notably Sina and Tencent.
While they are undeniably following Twitter’s lead, each of China’s microblogs has at least tried to bring something new to their service. 163 allows its users to put 163 Chinese characters in a single message, while Sina allows 140 characters rather than 140 (roman alphabet) letters. Of course Chinese characters allow one message to carry significantly more information than an English-language Tweet.
Tencent bundles its microblog closely with QQ, its popular IM client, which brings a significant number of users to their new service. Even search engine giant Baidu has jumped into the weibo battle, as has Xinhua, China’s official news agency.
Microblogs have gained popularity among Chinese netizens fast. Like, really fast. Take Sina for example. It introduced t.sina.com at the end of 2009, and by the end of 2010, the number of t.sina.com users had surpassed 100 million. It’s likely now around 150 million, having passed 140 million about a month back. Although not many know the fact that these services are copied from twitter, and that “t” actually stands for twitter, microblogging is a huge hit among Chinese netizens for it’s openness, responsiveness, interactivity, and fast pace.
The service now sits on the coveted domain weibo.com, and it is expected that Sina will soon launch it in English, challenging Twitter for global microblog supremacy. For those not familiar with Sina Weibo, Digicha has an extensive overview of how the service works.
Like Twitter in the west, microblogs are drastically changing China’s online community, emerging as a powerful platform for sharing information. And like Twitter, it’s especially useful for disseminating breaking news of recent events. Microblogs played an important role in the “my father is Li Gang” incident. There was also the case of Yao jiaxin, who injured a lady in a car accident and then killed the lady with a blade in his trunk.
Chinese microblogs have issues though, and the obvious one is censorship (content inspection, key word filter, etc). As microblogs have grown more and more popular, network censorship has likewise reached a level that the country has never seen before. Not only is the official network administration is highly ‘armed,’ but microblog providers also have their own dedicated team monitoring all messages on the platform, deleting whatever they believe may cause troubles. And this was dubbed by chinese netizens as “self-castrating,” because they believe in most cases, providers are over-doing it.
Maybe microblogs are growing too fast in China, and we see lots of unexpected, celebrity clashes, zombie fans, cons, and traps. These issues will need addressing before microblogs could really make a difference.