Could Weibo overtake Twitter?


Most people think of Weibo as a ‘chinese twitter’ (if they think about it at all), but what if it made a play for the global market? Does it have the potential to overtake the original?

I’ve been working on a project (with @yimeizhu ) looking at the use of Weibo by UK universities. I’ll blog some of the results of that in the near future, but one upshot is that I’ve been quite impressed by some of the features of Weibo and rather than thinking of it as an inferior copycat I’ve started to wonder whether the features commented on as weakness (close control/ censorship) could make for mass market global appeal.

If you look at the most popular university weibo site, for Huddersfield University you can see that it is a mixture of english and chinese, although mainly the latter. They currently have over 30,000 followers (compared with an average for the rest of the University Alliance of 2,900, and Russell Group and 1994 group averages of 1,500 and 2,000 respectively).

You can see that pictures are embedded within the page in a way that isn’t currently default on Twitter (although there are firefox plugins for that) and weibo supports animated emoticons in a way which I find quite cool, but which most likely split opinions.

Screenshot of Huddersfield University's Weibo page

The bigger differences are less obvious.

Firstly the content on weibo is closely monitored. The focus in the west has been on the policital nature of this, but this monitoring presumably also focuses on other elements such as pornography and spam.

Seconldy most weibo accounts are verified (in a way that only celebrity accounts are on twitter) which presumably makes spambots a lot less likely.

These two features taken together remind me of Apple’s app store, which has of course been hugely successful with consumers who appear to be happy to trade off an element of freedom for a dependable and safe product.

This leads me to wonder what might happen if twitter becomes increasingly clogged with spambots and Weibo were to agressively expand into non-Chinese markets. What if Weibo’s success in China isn’t just because of the great wall of china (which can be circumvented fairly easily) but becuase it’s a good product? Could Weibo overtake Twitter?

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About digitalscholar

I am a sociologist with an interest in new technology. Previously I’ve worked on a number of projects at Lancaster University and the Open University looking at the use of new technologies and social media by researchers. I was also a social sciences teaching fellow at the foundation centre at Durham University teaching sociology and anthropology. I am now a senior lecturer at the University of West London's Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning where I oversee the foundation provision and support retention. I'm sure I'll still be interested in, and occasionally blog about, tech related things. I use this blog to post thoughts about using new technologies in my professional academic life and wider thoughts and links relating to technology more generally.
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