While the English microblog market is characterized as being ‘Twitter and challengers we compare to Twitter,’ the Chinese microblogosphere is bursting with competition, creativity and copying. Multiple contenders jostle with each other for 400 million Chinese Internet users that haven’t yet decided which microblog they would prefer to use, if any. To add to the confusion, Chinese government censors have already shut down a couple microblogs.
As of February 2010, there are at least 10 microblogs that show promise. We’ve been playing with several of these microblogs for our own learning. That is, we aren’t running any campaigns for clients on microblogs yet but we have been learning how to use each of the major Chinese microblogs. Here’s my thoughts on these microblogs.
Zuosa was the first microblog I started using. I immediately saw the potential both for Zuosa as a company and as a marketing channel for us. It seems they basically copied Twitter.com then added several features that make it more user-friendly and more attractive to Chinese users.
When I call Zuosa one of the ‘little guys,’ what I mean is that it is not integrated into one of the major existing online portals - Zuosa, Digu and several other Chinese microblogs are standalone sites. It seems that Zuosa has a thriving but small community of users. In the face of the monster portal websites, I don’t see Zuosa or any of the other ‘little guy’ microblogs that I’ve used exploding in usage unless they can really bring something innovative and highly useful to the table. They also don’t seem to have the momentum to drive the third-party development of applications anywhere near the scale that we see with Twitter.
Sina is one of the top-20 highest traffic websites in the world according to Alexa. This gives them a huge advantage when it comes to building the massive user base needed to create a truly Twitter-like experience. Not only does Sina Microblog they have the users, but they’ve put together what I find to be the best microblog website I’ve used so far – English or Chinese. Sina has seen Twitter.com and the earlier Chinese microblogs and raised them some much-wanted functionality and usability. Here are three of my favorite features of Sina’s:
Sina Microblog already has a huge user base, excellent features and earlier entry in the market relative to the other major portals. This is the microblog we’ll be following the closest.
Despite being launched by a major international website, MySpace China’s 9911 is still only one of the ‘little guys.’ It doesn’t seem to be booming yet and I’ve only been using it as a second-tier microblog attached to my Zuosa account for now.
The OG of the microblog world, Twitter’s familiar bird looms on the horizon unable to touch-down on Chinese soil. Twitter is banned in China, but there are still Chinese users that breach the Great Firewall of China to use it. Twitter won’t be able to compete with the up-and-coming Chinese microblogs unless it can reach a much wider Chinese user base. For that matter, keep in mind that if one of these microblogs does grow to take up a huge portion of the Chinese market (about 400 million Internet users and growing), it may be able to challenge Twitter for the largest number of users within the decade.
Finally, the wild card - Google Buzz. Gmail is huge in China and this gives Buzz and immediate entry point. But there’s so many factors that aren’t easy to predict. Will Google exit China? Will China block Gmail to stop its citizens from having access to Buzz? Can Buzz be blocked without Gmail being blocked? If not blocked, can Google, which has typically performed poorly in the face of Chinese competitors, really be able to win over Chinese users with Buzz?
There are several major players that should be released soon, including 163 and Sohu’s microblogs. I can’t wait to see what they have in store. QQ’s microblog Taotao is already up, but has not been working properly lately. On the homepage is a notice saying that they are integrating it with QQ Space so we’ll have to wait and see for this one too. QQ is the tenth highest traffic site according to Alexa and the largest social networking website according to some measures.
Some consider Baidu’s iTieba to be a microblog. Indeed, it does have some similarities. Others, such as Shu Xun, the division manager of Baidu Tieba, don’t consider it a microblog. Shu Xun said “iTieba is just the personal center of Tieba, and is a function of Tieba, so people who don’t use Tieba may not be used to it. According to my knowledge, Baidu has no plans for a microblogging service.” (See Digital East Asia for more on Baidu Tieba.)
If it could be considered a microblog at all, it is certainly not a standard microblog. It’s more like a forum where you have the option of following certain forum posters.
We’ll be watching Chinese microblogs closely and continuously working with several of them. I’m excited to see where this leads.
What do you think about microblogs in China?