With the launch of Weibo Groups (微群, by invite-only), the Sina Weibo ‘microblog’ is officially in the social networking business. Weibo Groups are social clubs divided in 8 major categories (celebrities, industry, interests, culture, lifestyle, housing, old friends, and cities), with over a hundred subcategories. Within these categories users are allowed to create their own unique groups with specifically defined interests and purposes (Example: Industry>IT & Internet>”Sina Weibo Marketing”). Each group is limited to 500 users and each user is limited to 10 groups. There are both open groups (anyone can join) and closed groups (requires approval to participate as a member, but anyone can read). What does this mean for netizens and social networks in China?
Sina Weibo Becomes Still More Social
Sina Weibo is far more socialized than its western ‘microblogging’ counterparts like Twitter. Whereas Twitter prides itself on minimalism and is extremely cautious with changes, Sina Weibo is now testing a new feature every few weeks.
Sina Weibo no longer fits the Twitter-dominated conception of a ‘microblog,’ as it continues to mix in more elements of social networks and instant messengers. Establishing social networking circles around interests is a tremendously popular feature of QQ instant messenger: QQ Groups. Sina Weibo’s groups are fully supported by multimedia sharing plugins (open API) and cloud storage for larger files. And the potential social influence of each group is far greater than other platforms: users can simultaneously post between Groups and their Weibo accounts, thereby broadcasting their message to the 70 million Weibo users (est. by the end of 2010) on the platform.
Sina Weibo Threatens China’s Social Networks
RenRen Groups are coming soon, following on the heels of Facebook’s launch of its new Groups. Oak Pacific Interactive’s Chief Marketing Officer, Alvin Chiang, made the announcement at the RenRen Marketing Summit (OPI is the parent company of RenRen). RenRen is the closest China has to Facebook, with a self-reported 160 million users.
Sina Weibo’s ‘Groups’ have launched ahead of RenRen, a clear warning sign to Chinese social networks that Weibo is a competitive threat for Chinese netizen’s social graph and their time spent online. To speculate, if Sina offers a complete map of user’s connections (a simple version is already online), with individual user profiles, photo albums, locational services (currently available on mobile devices), event sharing (also currently available), multimedia sharing (open API), then how can one argue that Sina Weibo is still just a ‘microblog’ rather than a ‘social network’?
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