Today (April 7, 2011) Sina Weibo launched two new domain names (URL) weibo.com and weibo.cn (Open API Platform & WAP address), which should help Sina dominate the microblog market and venture further into social networking.
How? Weibo means microblog in Chinese (微博), so Sina is now literally in control of www.microblog.com for China. Sina’s major competitors, Tencent Weibo and Sohu Weibo, also refer to their services as “weibo,” so the new URL is a coup for Sina.
Charles Chao (CEO of Sina) and his 1000-employee strong Sina Weibo team is becoming a much more serious threat to Chinese SNS sites such as RenRen and Kaixin001 than Twitter ever was for Facebook.
I have covered almost every step of Sina Weibo’s product development on TechRice (see earlier posts), but the question arises: how exactly did Sina Weibo explode and transform China’s social media space?
The History of China’s Microblogs
(Disclosure: I work at CIC Data and the copyrights for the infographics in this post are reserved by CIC).
As early as 2007, barely 9 months after Twitter’s launch, China had its first clone in the market: Jiwai.de, which has since closed. A month later it was followed by Fanfou, perhaps the most controversial microblog site in China. Fanfou was founded by Wang Xing who also cloned Facebook by creating Xiaonei (now Renren), but the site was shut down a year later due to government censorship (it was recently reopened but has no hope of recapturing the market). The next notable site was 9911 started by MySpace China, but like its parent company it never grew to become a promising product. From 2007 to mid 2009 is what I like to refer to as the 1st generation Chinese microblogs: they tested the market, faced the challenge of introducing microblogging to Chinese users, and ultimately succumbed to a cruel fate of censorship. Thus did the first generation end.
In late 2009, following the death of the 1st generation of microblogging sites, Sina Weibo entered the market. Charles Chao saw the potential in the market, Sina created a high-quality user experience, and importantly the Chinese government trusted Sina to supervise the content on the platform, even drawing government employees in to participate. Forbes’ Beijing corespondent Gady Epstein writes:
[Charles] Chao’s government-trusted sandbox for cynics, celebrities, influential bloggers and media elites.
[Sina faced the greatest threat of closure] about one year after it launched. At that time, media delivered some biased reports on Iran’s “Twitter Revolution” which led to speculation that the [Chinese] government might close microblog services because they presented a threat.
But as more and more government agencies began using Sina Weibo and observed Sina’s tireless effort in strict supervision, the government gradually learned that the public needs an outlet for comments and emotions. An outlet that you can monitor is safer than one that you can not. Sina Weibo is controlled by people who obey the government, so there is higher risk to shutting it down than allowing it to continue. Also, the government itself can use Sina Weibo.
Sina Weibo’s Growth & Competitors
It took Sina Weibo 66 days to reach it’s first million users and 177 days to the first 10 million, which achieved April 28, 2010. Since then the site has reached 100 million registered users it continues to grow at a breakneck pace. and growth is rapid. Sina Weibo’s main competitor Tencent Weibo claims to have reached 100 million users a month earlier, but volumes of search keywords from Baidu Index for the last 6 months (October 2010 – April 2011) on the top 3 microblogs Sina, Tencent and Sohu show that Sina is miles ahead of its top two competitors in popular usage.
Everyone is Adding Weibo Features
The saying goes: “your product is not a success until you’re cloned in China.” The current flood of social networks adding “weibo” features is a testament to Sina Weibo’s explosive growth.
1) SNS with 140 Characters & Mentions (@) Status Updates
Renren, Kaixin001 and Sohu’s Baishehui all introduced a Mentions feature in their status updates recently. By adding @ + friend name (Microblog fashion) a user can direct the update to another or a number of friends, a feature that Facebook has had for some time now but that remains underused. Even prior to this update RenRen already referred to their status updates as an alternative form of microblogging and limited updates to 140 characters.
- Renren’s status update with @ feature, which is limited to 10 friends & 140 characters
2) SNS with Full Internal Weibo
At TechRice we always consider Douban to be China’s most original SNS, with its unique micro-communities based on interests and shared contents such as movies, books, music and online/offline events. But despite forging its own path in many ways, the Douban team could not ignore the Weibo trend. On March 29, 2011 Douban upgraded one of their earliest functions into a standalone microblog service named Douban Shuo (豆瓣说), which is now in invite-only closed beta.
Sina Weibo is both an innovator in microblogging and a giant in China’s social media space. Weibo has transformed Sina from a portal site with few meaningful registrations to the owner of 100 million users (closing on 150 million according to sources inside Sina), many of whom spend every bit of their free time on Weibo.
With the launch of the new URLs, users are referring to Sina Weibo as the microbl0g in China second-to-none. Coupled with the recent rumors of an imminent spinoff and IPO for Weibo, Sina could be in command of the “holy shit idea of a generation” that transforms the Chinese internet market.
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