Microblogs surge in China

29 November 2010

BEIJING: Microblogging services are rapidly gaining popularity in China, as internet companies like Sina and Sohu compete to attract consumers and advertisers.

Research firm Analysys International reported that user numbers for such sites have grown from 8m last year to 75m at present, and could hit 145m in 2010, and reach 240m in 2012.

Sina stated in November that Sina Weibo had secured 50m members in 14 months, including 10m since April 2010, thus attaining an "absolute leading position".

Replicating the model pioneered by Twitter, it limits messages to 140 Chinese characters, alongside letting visitors upload pictures and video, with 25m items of material posted to date.

"One of the major advantages compared with other products is that Sina's micro-blogging is more compatible with mobile devices," Peng Shaobin, Sina's vice president, said.

The company estimates some 38% of data added each day comes from mobile terminals, a figure it expects to rise as a 3G infrastructures is rolled out across the country.

In a bid to monetise this property, Sina is introducing an "advertising self-service system", working on an idea close to Apple's App Store.

Sina anticipates it should start making money from this offering by the time the 200m member mark is scaled.

"We will be able to make a lot of profit on it," said Charles Chao, Sina's ceo. "It is just a matter of time."

It also recently formed a partnership with Shanghai MSN Network Communications Technology Co, Microsoft's joint venture in China.

This deal covered microblogs, instant messaging, traditional blogs and mobile phone content, with revenue-generating plans centred around advertising and apps.

Sohu is another web specialist emphasising this category , having launched a new platform in April 2010.

Charles Zhang, the corporation's chairman, said this aspect of its operations was a strategic investment priority, with the ambition of catching the early movers.

"Compared with the total number of internet users, at more than 420 million … the proportion of microblog users is still very small," he argued. "So it's not too late for Sohu to strive in this sector."

"In the past, battles between portals existed in click times, but now compete in how long users spend on websites, which is a significant feature of microblog[s]."

Zhang suggested the advantages of Sohu's service over Sina's was its focus on entertainment and similar topics rather than news, an area subject to greater censorship.

He has also encouraged celebrities like actors Jet Lie and Liu Ye to open accounts, as Sohu endeavours to drive up interest and participation.

"Sohu has already boosted sales of online searches, games and videos," said Zhang.

"To profit from microblogs, we will learn from Twitter or Facebook, that is, through brand advertising, click advertising and interlinking online pay games."

Other organisations such as Netease and Tencent have outlined the goal of expanding their activity in this space.

Data sourced from People's Daily, Bloomberg, Xinhua; additional content by Warc staff