The popularity of Twitter has produced a number of clones in China, just as there are Facebook clones. Some of China’s Twitter clones have been closed down by the Chinese government, but some have survived. We take a look at both cases in this post. We also assess Twitter’s chances of success in China, should it ever be freed from the ‘Great Firewall of China.’
Fanfou, Jiwai and Digu were some of the first Twitter clones to become successful in China. However
all three – plus Twitter itself – were blocked by the Chinese government in July 2009, because of their usage during the uprisings in Ürümqi. According to an AFP article, Chinese authorities blamed online agitators for helping to stoke violence in that region.
Prior to being shut down, Fanfou had been dubbed “China’s Twitter” and had almost reached 1 million registered users by the end of June 2009.
An October 2009 report by China Daily noted that Fanfou was founded in July 2007 by Wang Xing, a young entrepreneur who also founded China’s current most popular social network Renren (formally known as Xiaonei). Both Renren and Fanfou were almost carbon copies of their U.S. equivalent services – Facebook and Twitter respectively.
Weibo Rises to Take Fanfou’s Place
However it is
Weibo that has emerged to become the biggest micro-blogging service in China. Weibo is owned by Sina.com, a huge portal company in China, and is connected to Sina’s blogging platform.
Weibo is very much like Twitter, in that it allows users to post short messages 140 Chinese characters or less via the Web, SMS or MMS. Although according to Chinese Internet expert and Beijing resident Kaiser Kuo, in Chinese 140 characters can actually produce quite a long message.
The major difference between Weibo and Twitter, according to Kuo, is that Weibo is censored. Or in the parlance of Chinese Internet users, it is “harmonized.”
Sina’s Weibo probably has a much greater chance of surviving than its counterparts like Twitter and Fanfou, because it knows how to self-censor. Meng Bo, deputy editor-in-chief of Sina.com and project manager of Sina Weibo, told China Daily in October that “Sina is playing by the rules as they are laid down, with strict word filtering in operation.”
According to Meng, there are two teams of staff “keeping close watch to ensure there is no vulgar content or anything that violates the rules.”
Would Twitter Succeed in China Anyway?
China’s surviving micro-blogging services are tightly controlled by the censorship climate in China.
However even if Twitter became available again in China, would it take off with mainstream Chinese Internet users? Kaiser Kuo thinks that it wouldn’t, because of the popularity of currently operational services like Weibo and Taotao. He remarked that although there would be an uptake in the number of users on Twitter, if it was ever to be made available again, Weibo and others will have gained too much momentum by then.