April 10, 2010

Sina Microblog

Sina microblog, the latest fashionable trend in the Chinese online community. Every single person I have ever heard of owns one. Yet, I can't shake off the feeling that the success of the microblog came because Sina is standing on the shoulder of a giant, just like older internet services QQ (which copied ICQ), Baidu (which copied Google), Renren (which copied Facebook), and others.

Take a look at the two screen shots below. The first one shows the layout of actress Yao Chen's Sina microblog, and I have explained the Chinese texts in red. The second one is Coldplay's Twitter account.

Yao Chen's microblog

Coldplay's Twitter page

I'd say the most Sina did was to move the brief "About" blurb from the top right hand corner to the left, under the owner's name. Perhaps the most obvious telltale sign indicating Sina's blatant "borrowing" is the 140 character limit. Fortunately, since Chinese is more compact than English, one can express a lot more information on Sina than he can on Twitter.

To the media giant's credit, Sina added a few more features to make its microblog friendlier to Chinese usage. Notice the fields under each tweet, which list the number of times a message has been re-posted as well as a the comments readers made in response to the particular message. In essence, each tweet has been converted into a mini-thread. This is no doubt a shrewd move to take advantage of the giant popularity that the BBS forum format enjoys in China. To increase user interactions, Sina also sends notifications each time someone either retweets or replies to one's message.

To make information gathering more convenient (and coincidentally to prevent its users from ever having to leave its website), Sina included many multimedia functions. Pictures can be included with the tweets, and the embedded videos play on the same page.

All in all, I think a non-Chinese Twitter user can readily take up Sina microblog because things are almost identical to Twitter. Of course, he would still have to overcome the small hurdle of not understanding Chinese. And oh, the new microblog has censorship too.

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