If you look for a Chinese version of Amazon.com, you will find Taobao.com.
If you look for a Chinese version of Facebook, you will find Renren.com.
How do you say Twitter in Mandarin? Try Weibo.
Launched in August 2009 by Sina Corporation, China’s biggest web portal, has experienced explosive growth that has been fueled by celebrity users, exorbitant market valuations, and claims of being “by far the best platform for free speech”.
Famous users of Weibo include:
Yao Chen, a famous actress, became the first Weibo user to have more than 1 million followers on February 10, 2010. While Yao Chen is not the top actress in China, she is very popular among Chinese Internet users. As of 3/15/11, she has over 6.86 million followers on Weibo. Her posts center around her daily life and fans perhaps like her so much because she interacts a lot with normal users.
Lee Kai-fu, Google’s former China head, is the first business user of Weibo to gather more than 1 million followers. As of 3/15/11, he has over 4.24 million followers on Weibo. He announced news that he would leave Google and set up his own business through this platform, which gave Sina Weibo a lot of press.
Exorbitant Market Valuations
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Weibo hasn’t released user figures since October 2010, when it had 50 million members, but analysts at investment firm Susequehanna International predict that the company will reach the 120 million mark by 2012. By comparison, Twitter had 175 million users as of September 2010.
The fast rise of Weibo has contributed positively to the market valuation of its parent corporation, Sina Corp. Sina’s shares trade at the U.S. Nasdaq exchange and have almost tripled in in price since Weibo’s launch, providing Sina a market valuation of about $5.7 billion.
Outlet for Freedom of Speech
While Facebook and Twitter are heavily monitored by the Chinese government. When the Chinese government blocked these sites during key events such as the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, there was a big social media vacuum.
The timely launch of Weibo has provided the platform a head start in being the primary outlet for controversial topics avoided by the state-controlled media. Lee Kai-fu has claimed that Weibo is “by far the best platform for free speech”. While the Chinese government has started to censor Weibo more aggressively, the company is performing better than others in being able to provide a more accurate pulse on what’s going on around China and what people are thinking.
Check out Weibo at http://t.sina.com.cn.