“We are going to be the Facebook of China.”
I heard this in a single day from three different Sina Weibo employees. They are hell-bent on becoming the Facebook of China, which means total dominance.
Does this make any sense? Can a microblog become a dominant fully fledged SNS?
The answer comes from the complexity of Sina Weibo’s product development plan and their excution speed. Since Sina Weibo’s April launch of weibo.com the service has evolved even further away from the usual concept of microblogging and accelerated down the path of building a social network with almost daily updates. In a sense, Sina Weibo is not trying to recreate the SNS model established by Facebook and cloned by Renren in China, but instead the technical team at Sina headquarters in Beijing are experimenting with completely new ideas and educating users in the Weibo-style of social networking.
What Makes Sina Weibo a SNS:
Friend invites and recommendations – Microblog users follow each other, but they do not necessarily know each other. But now Sina Weibo has given users the chance to know friends of their friends through recommendations on the right side bar of the user homepage and even request another user to follow them via request DMs. These features are changing the structure of user relationships in Weibo. Those who follow you back will be a real friend.
Public Pages – Pages are the customizable mini-sites on Weibo. Following the recent launch of weibo.com, Sina Weibo now has their own unique version of public pages that are fully customizable. As a sample, this is the NBA Page in Weibo. On top Sina hosts a video stream of the latest game, and on the left are the latest scores and the season schedule.
Revamped Groups – Groups, I wrote last November, threaten China’s social networks. But it hasn’t turned out to be the success I hoped for. That all changed with the newly revamped 2.0 version of Groups–the main page of each group closely resembles an SNS profile page. New features include a chat-room, cloud storage file sharing, and a new algorithm for news feeds. In the chat-room, up to 50 users from the same group can instant message each other in a public forum.
This revamped Groups along with the friend invites and recommendations are the ultimate weapons for Sina to restructure their user socializing behaviours into the SNS patterns.
Open Platform – open.weibo.com Sina Weibo’s open platform for developers to create third-party apps just launched version 2.0, which offers new reinforced authorization keys to developers. Sina is also working on an extended open platform that supports online app coding, so that developers can create apps in a browser presumably stored in the cloud.
In the mobile market, HTML5 will be the next battleground for Sina. There is already a third-party HTML5 mobile game center that uses Sina Weibo login.
(If you are a Sina Weibo user or developer, follow @indigo, in charge of Weibo’s API)
Social Gaming & Online Payment – Five Minutes, the company responsible for massive social game hits in China was rumoured to be developing social games for Sina Weibo. I’ve confirmed this rumor with inside sources from both Sina and Five Minutes. What’s more, Sina is ready to launch their own online payment service soon, we were told at the last Sina Weibo Developers Forum in Shanghai. Sina is aiming not only at the general online payment market but also specifically focused on mobile payment.
Interest Filter – 20th May, Sina introduced “interest filters” in Weibo. Users can now filter their news feeds in the browser via interest. The algorithm is still unknown, but it’s a step forward for organizing Weibo posts into a more acceptable structure for socializing.
Self-Verification – Verification in Twitter is reserved for only the top-most public figures. Sina however saw it as a tool to verify user information. As part of the recent updates, Weibo now hosts self-verification applications for users to provide their real information and get an orange V next to their usernames. Perhaps Sina will be the first true real-name SNS in China!
Why Sina Weibo?
Sina Weibo was a microblog, but Sina has far more planned than being a simple 140-character media platform. Connecting the dots, each Weibo update adds a new experience, steps in Sina’s tutorial for users to adapt to this new form of social networking. Instead of launching a full-fledged SNS upfront, Sina has adopted a gradual approach.
It starts from the basics in social networking: content creation, through enriched multi-media posts (tweets), to the current stage of coaching users to re-approach their social relations in Weibo by offering functions that will consolidate the bonds between users.
Looking at the stats of traffic shared on the social platforms for April and March (according to bShare), Sina Weibo has managed to rank second for yet another consecutive month and is increasing its distance from Renren (ranked third after Weibo).
The latest official figure on Sina Weibo is 140 million registered users out of 477 million internet users in China. Sina Weibo has a Chinese government-trusted model of social networking, users love them, media love them (there are already Weibo-related TV Shows), and developers see the platform as potentially the most profitable one, and marketers are scrambling to promote on Weibo. Sina Weibo is on it’s way to becoming the Facebook of China.
And here are some of my predictions for Sina Weibo:
- Revamped User Profiles – The UI of user profiles will be updated in a visually pleasing manner to accommodate the Communities, Groups, and social games.
- Centralized Messaging System – Mark Zuckerberg has envisioned that Facebook messages will take over from email. In China, the same can be said for Sina Weibo’s DMs, especially with the latest iPhone Weibo App update which adds a SMS interface to DM’s. With chat rooms coming, and notifications from Communites and Groups, a central messaging hub is required for user to navigate through this social networks.
- New Friend Management – As Weibo becomes a full-fledged SNS, users will be offered more options to manage friends who are linked to their user profile and messaging system.
- Virtual Currency – for social games, a virtual currency is required. According to the rumors, Sina already has a virtual currency project underway.
In my work at CIC I worked on a report on social media applications on Sina Weibo. It is available here.
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