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Chinese 'Twitter' breaks out of China

Sina Weibo to take on global customers (who want to toe the Party line)

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Popular Twitter clone Sina Weibo is planning to bust out of China before the end of the year, bringing additional features but maintaining state-mandated censorship.

Sina Weibo is currently limited to China, and the Chinese language, but as Reuters reports, the company is promising to provide an English-language service, available around the world, by the end of the year. That should create proper competition to Twitter's monopoly, as long as users don't mind the Chinese state restricting what they're allowed to talk about.

Sina Weibo has around 140 million users in China, compared to Twitter's global 170 million or so. But while Sina Weibo can poach Twitter's existing customers the reverse is prevented by the Chinese government block on uncensored services, which prevents Twitter from entering the country.

Sina's English-language service will be censored: updates containing inflammatory words or phrases will disappear into the aether as they do on the Chinese version, but that doesn't seem to bother the locals who replace known keywords with codes, or simply don't discuss such things in public.

So those locals provide Sina Weibo with a significant, and untouchable, base from which it now plans to attack international markets.

Micro-blogging, or Weibo as it's known locally, is huge in China – it's perfectly suited to the immediacy demanded by Chinese youth who aren't as bothered by state censorship as we mighty imagine them to be. Without Twitter, China has incubated three competing Weibo networks, driving innovation while Twitter has been content to rest on its laurels.

It's unlikely we'll see Sina Weibo organising a big US launch when its English service goes live in the autumn, but it will be interesting to see if twitterati elsewhere care as much about censorship as one might hope they do. ®

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