Chinese internet companies

Sina wins China's microblog battle

China is now home to more than 300 million microbloggers, and some analysts have declared Sina the winner in the battle to dominate the market.
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Sina promotes its Twitter-like microblogging site during a book fair in Shanghai (ImagineChina)
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<div style="text-align: left;"> Sina promotes its Twitter-like microblogging site during a book fair in Shanghai (ImagineChina) </div>

Sina Corp appears to be the winner of the latest battle among Chinese internet companies competing for the country’s ever-growing online audience, although the war is far from over.

Microblogging, which is known as weibo in China and is a key product for Sina, has become a 300 million-strong social media phenomenon — and one that Chinese internet companies have had to themselves since government censors blocked Twitter in 2009.

“Sina is a clear winner,” according to one internet analyst. “This is negative for Tencent and bad news for Renren and Kaixin, because no-one uses traditional social networks anymore; everyone uses weibo.”

With about 485 million people online, China’s internet market is huge, but is still immature. Chinese internet companies not only copy the products of their Western counterparts, but also compete fiercely among themselves by copying each others’ products as well.

When Sina launched its Twitter-like microblogging service, Tencent and Sohu quickly followed suit. In the race to win market share, Tencent makes its staff peddle the service to friends and family. Baidu, apart from racing with Yahoo China, also competes with Sohu’s subsidiary Sogou for search engine services.

Some of the battles have even ended up in court. Qihoo 360, which listed in the US via a $175 million IPO, accused QQ, the instant messaging tool owned by Tencent, of scanning customers’ computers for private data. Fighting back, Tencent called Qihoo’s applications malware and forced QQ users to drop antivirus software provided by Qihoo.

The dispute went on for months until the government stepped in amid mounting criticism from internet users, forcing the two companies to tone down their public rhetoric.

China is facing new challenges in regulating the online industry, said the State Internet Information Office at a conference in Wuhan on Monday. The office, which is a government entity committed to promote a civilised online environment, announced that China’s weibo users have topped 300 million.

China’s booming online industry has had a positive effect so far, helping to improve accountability — of government, certainly, but also of entrepreneurs and other business leaders — as the people make their voices heard through microblogs and other free services.

It has also made the excesses of China’s rich more visible, as the newly moneyed take to the internet to show off their lifestyles. One microblogger, Guo Meimei, a 20-year-old girl who claimed to hold the position of “commercial general manager” at the Red Cross Society of China, boasted of her jet-set life. She posted photos and entries revealing the closetful of Hermes handbags she had and the Lamborghini and Maserati cars she drove, igniting a firestorm as the organisation had received large donations after a series of disasters in the country.

China’s biggest charity denied any ties to Guo and Chinese media reported that she is actually the mistress of a top Red Cross official in China.

Thanks to the internet, stories that officials would prefer to stay hidden have been brought to public attention. When the son of a security bureau official ran over two people, killing one and seriously injuring the other, he confidently shouted at the security guards who tried to stop him: “Sue me, my dad is Li Gang.” Witnesses spread the news online, turning the son’s phrase into an ironic commentary on the country’s corrupt elite.

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