Many people have wondered whether Twitter can be a huge success in China, like in other places around the world, if it was not blocked. No one can give a definite answer to the question. But from a comparison between Twitter and China’s most popular microblogging service Sina Weibo, we can at least say that Twitter has a lot to learn from its Chinese copycat.
Or, in fact, Sina Weibo is more than a simple copycat. It is what I would call a SNS microblogging service, more like the son of Facebook and Twitter. On the other hand, Twitter is more about reading and sharing information and falls short on interactivity and the social element.
(Fun note: Weibo, a microblog, pronounces the same as Weibo, a scarf in Chinese. So instead of tweeting, the Chinese call microblogging “weaving a scarf”.)
The user experience (functionality): Compared with Twitter, Sina Weibo makes tweeting, not only the 140 words but also pretty much everything else, much easier and less of a hassle. No need for third party services any more.
- Rich media tweets: Sina Weibo allows its users to upload pictures, videos, audios and tons of thumbnail emotions as attachments by a simple click. And the best part…these media can be viewed live without leaving the site, just like in Facebook.
- Voicemail tweet: Image you are driving but feel a strong urge of tweeting…Sina Weibo allows its users to call a number and leave a voicemail of what s/he wants to say. The recording will be automatically posted as an audio tweet right away.
- Automatic URL shortener: Paste whatever URL in the input box, Sina Weibo automatically shortens it into a format of http://sinaurl.cn/XXXXX. Nice and neat.
- Automatic commenting to retweets: Both Twitter and Sina Weibo have the retweet button. But Sina Weibo’s retweet automatically leaves space for comments. Even better, users can choose to spontaneously post the comment either to the last person who retweets the same message or to the original author of the tweet. No more RT @.
- Sharing picture directly from mobile phone: The mobile phone app for Sina Weibo allows its users to snap a photo and upload directly to Weibo account.
The social element: Sina Weibo makes microblogging more of a social thing than Twitter.
- Threaded comments: Under each tweet, there is an option of adding comments. One can choose whether to post the comment to his or her own timeline or not. All comments to the same tweet can be show as a threaded one, like in a traditional blog. The functions adds a whole new dimension of interactivity and engagement to microblogging.
- Microgroups: Sina Weibo allows each user to open up to 3 micro groups, in which friends or people with common interests can share conversations. In a sense, Twitter is still one-to-many communication, following or being followed. Sina Weibo really snaps the social vibe.
- Mini polls: Sina Weibo allow its users to tweet mini polls by a simple click. All required is to have your question and choice options ready. The function provides brand and news agencies with tremendous opportunities to get a quick pulse of their audience.
- Social media aggregation: Sina Weibo allows its users to set up in settings to share tweets as status in Renren,com (Chinese version of Facebook), Kaixin001.com (another Chinese version of Facebook), QQ (most popular instant message service in China), and Sina Blog (biggest blog host in China). Now the only thing a Chinese netizen needs to update is the microblog. Sina Weibo basically revolves the whole social media world of a Chinese netizen around microblogging.
- Social games apps: They are apps, but nor for any smart phones. They are social game apps that use Sina Weibo as the platform and tweets as part of the game. For example, different users can build up tweets to a story and then have the story rated by other users.
Information filter and navigation: Many Twitter users have complaints about the problem of too much noise in their timelines. Sina Weibo offers some solution.
- Content filters on home page: Sina Weibo allows its users to filter their timelines by customized lists such as classmates, co-workers, special attention, celebrities, etc., and by content types such as original tweet, tweet with picture, tweet with video and tweet with music. The ability to show only original tweets is especially useful in reducing information overflow.
- Categorized trends: Sina Weibo’ trend function shows popular tags categorized by topics, as well as popular microbloggers by both cities and topics. Compared with Twitter’s trend, it is much easier in Sina Weibo to find and follow topic or person of interests.
Sina Weibo now has more than 150 million users, only 18 months after its release, with an amazing increase rate of 10 million new users per month. What’s even better, these users are extremely active.
Many international internet companies came to China with ambitious plans but only to find themselves loosing the market to local competitors. What make the situation more bitter is that most of these local competitors started as copycats. Policy is, of course, one reason of international internet companies’ failure, but more importantly, local companies evolved beyond a simply copycat to have their own niche which, oftentimes, speaks better to the needs of Chinese consumers.