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Chinese Twitter Sina Weibo goes bilingual

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Attention Twitter: Chinese micro-blogging giant Sina Weibo has just updated its platform to accommodate English speaking users in a move that may well signal international expansion.

The English language interface is still only partially complete and a Sina spokesman told local blog TechInAsia that it “isn’t open globally yet”, but the signs are pointing to an imminent launch.

For the record, Sina Weibo’s Hong Kong site is still Chinese only at the time of writing although reports are filtering in from US users who can see an English interface.

Although rival Tencent launched a bilingual option back in 2011, Sina’s microblog service is by far the most popular in China with approaching 400 million users – by comparison, Twitter is said to have around 500m globally.

Adding an English option could therefore push those figures up massively and given Sina’s avian-themed rival something to think about. At present, Sina Weibo’s user base outside of China comes mainly from ex-pat Chinese and a smattering of Western celebs who post updates with the help of local agencies.

Sina is not the only Chinese web firm looking to increase expansion overseas in 2013. Tencent’s hugely popular Whatsapp-like mobile messaging app Weixin is anecdotally doing good business abroad in the English language guise of WeChat, although reliable user numbers are hard to find.

It even launched a BlackBerry app last month to capitalise on interest from SE Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia where the RIM device is still a hit with users.

China’s web giants have often been criticised for their failure to innovate and of achieving their success almost by default, because their Western rivals are blocked in the People’s Republic.

However, Canalys analyst Nicole Peng sees it differently, arguing they could hold their own overseas. “Many of the local mobile services/applications we have seen in China, such as Tencent, Weixin and Sina Weibo provide great user experience and innovative features that we could not find from the international big names,” she told The Reg.

“As long as they continue to innovate and own their IP, I do not see Chinese internet companies having any major disadvantages in competing [overseas], as mobile services become device/OS agnostic in the future.”

On the hardware side too, Chinese firms are expanding their reach. Aside from the obvious Shenzhen duo of Huawei and ZTE and PC giant Lenovo, little-known smartphone brand Xiaomi has revealed plans to launch in North America in 2014 or 2015.

The manufacturer of the Android-based MI-2, often referred to as the “Chinese Apple” thanks to consumer ardour for its slick Android handsets, yesterday said it expects to sell 10 million handsets in 2013 on the back of expansion to Hong Kong and Taiwan, before trying to crack the USA. ®

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