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Weibo’s Revival: Sina Weibo Is China’s Twitter, YouTube & InstaGram

With 390 million monthly users, Sina Weibo is seeing a huge revival.

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With 390 million monthly users, Sina Weibo is seeing a huge revival. What was once called ‘China’s Twitter’ has now become a comprehensive platform that incorporates the major features of social media channels like Twitter, YouTube, and InstaGram.

According to new Chinese mobile internet data reports, Sina Weibo‘s monthly active users (MAU) reached 390 million in September 2016 (source: Questmobile/Sina, Huxiu.com).

With these numbers, Sina Weibo became the fourth most-used mobile application of China in the autumn of 2016 after WeChat, QQ and mobile Taobao. Over 90% of Weibo users access the site through mobile.

Weibo’s huge revival

Weibo’s staggering MAU numbers show a sharp increase since last year, when the micro-blogging platform hit 212 million monthly active users.

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Weibo listed as China’s fourth most popular app (via People’s Daily).

Weibo’s growth in monthly active users may come as a surprise to many, since a lot of media (such as the BBC) wrote that the social media network was on its way out in 2015. With the rising popularity of Tencent’s WeChat, many Chinese media also predicted that Weibo was over.

But Weibo is anything but dead – the social media site is currently seeing a huge revival. According to Sina Weibo CEO Cao Guowei (曹国伟), Weibo’s high user rate can be explained by the fact that Sina Weibo is now becoming a platform that successfully combines the best features of different western social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

More than Twitter

Weibo is often explained as the ‘Chinese Twitter’. Like Twitter, Weibo also works as a follower/followee microblogging network. (Sina Weibo originally also had a 140-character limit for posts, but this limit was removed earlier in 2016.)

But Weibo is much more today than what it was when it launched in 2009. With an explosive growth of short video and live broadcasts, virtually all posts on Weibo now come with audiovisual content and/or pictures. The site is now all about microblogging (like Twitter), sharing pictures (like Instagram), and videos (like YouTube).

Sina Weibo partnered up with video sharing app Miaopai in late 2013, which allows users to post videos to their timeline and play them from there – similar to Facebook’s video function. Livestreaming also has become an important Weibo feature.

According to CEO Cao Guowei, another important Weibo function that has contributed to its revival is the ‘interest search function’, which allows users to browse their specific interest categories within Weibo, and the automatic recommendations based on user interests. These functions further promote the social interaction between users.

Sina Weibo CEO Cao Guowei (picture via Tencent).

Sina Weibo CEO Cao Guowei (picture via Tencent).

On Weibo, it is all about sharing information, both user generated content and professional media content: “The active information ecology is at the base of Weibo’s revival,” Cao says in a recent interview with Sina Tech.

Celebrity economy

Weibo is an important news source for its users, but the platform’s growth is also connected to China’s booming celebrity economy.

‘Online celebrity marketing’ or ‘cyberstar economy’ is alive and kicking on Weibo, where self-made celebrities are mushrooming. Papi Jiang is the best example of how quickly Chinese netizens can become huge celebrities through social media.

Papi Jiang, the biggest Chinese online celebrity of 2016.

Papi Jiang, the biggest Chinese online celebrity of 2016.

China’s so-called ‘Big V’s’ – popular microbloggers who have a ‘v’ behind their name as their accounts have been verified by Weibo – are worth big money. These social media celebrities vary from comedians to fashion bloggers or make-up stylists. Some Chinese online celebrities have just become famous because they blog a lot or have an extraordinary appearance.

These online stars offer great marketing potential for brands because they have a huge following, much influence, and often the right target audiences. While Weibo helps online celebrities grow big, these online celebrities also help Weibo by boosting the number of active Weibo users.

In an interview with People’s Daily, Cao Guowei expresses his content over Weibo’s success. It is clear that it is not the end of Weibo. “This is just the beginning,” Cao said: “And the future of Weibo is only getting better.”

– By Manya Koetse
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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ed Sander

    November 20, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    After the arrest of ‘big V’ Charles Xue in the summer of 2013 new legislation was passed that made spreading of rumours – with the CCP defining what is and isn’t a rumour – punishable with up to 3 years in prison. Weibo very quickly dead out in the months after. Many, among whom myself, thought that this would be the end of Weibo, which up till then had been a platform where the public could have its say (as long as it didn’t mobilize and criticize the central government) and expose corrupt local officials through ‘human flesh search engines’, an era that started with the Wenzhou train crash. Figures from 2014 seemed to confirm the decline of Weibo (e.g. http://www.chinainternetwatch.com/8829/weibo-aug-2014/). However in early 2015 more positive statistics began to appear (e.g. http://socialbrandwatch.com/weibo-has-stunning-2014/) and since then I haven’t seen much negative news about Weibo. The contradicting sources were gone and Weibo indeed seemed to be in a great revival, which now nobody can deny anymore.

    Having said that, the plarform hasn’t just changed in functionality but also in type of content. The height of the online citizen movement of the 2011-2013 (a highly interesting period for social media during which I lived in China) has been replaced by gossip news about the stars, with divorces of moviestars and their cheating wifes now being the most popular topics. And that’s exactly how the CCP likes it: panem et circenses. Weibo has survived and revived but at the same time Weibo is also very much dead and decomposing.

  2. Shelly

    November 23, 2016 at 11:24 am

  3. overseaschinese

    December 4, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    There are a plethora of features on Weibo that completely supersedes anything that we see on Instagram, Twitter or Youtube.

    Even Wechat is much more superior than Facebook.

    If it’s anything like, we can already say that Facebook is trying to be like Wechat. Twitter is trying to be like Weibo.

    Let’s not fool ourselves, these Chinese apps is cashing in, while the US-based ones are struggling to monetise.

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China Digital

Are Douyin and TikTok the Same?

China’s popular “Douyin” app is known as “TikTok” in markets outside of China. But is it really one app?

Gabi Verberg

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TikTok, known as the international version of the Chinese successful short video app Douyin, is a global hit. Despite Bytedance’s efforts to present Douyin and TikTok as being the same product, they are actually two separate entities.

Douyin, (抖音, literally “shaking sound” in Chinese) is a short video media app owned by China’s young tech giant Bytedance (字节跳动). The app allows users to create, edit, and share short videos as well as livestreams, often featuring music in the background.

Douyin’s international name is TikTok, an app that looks the same as Douyin, while in fact, the two are not one and the same, despite Bytedance’s efforts to brand it as such.

This is not the first time a Chinese tech company presents one app as being the same everywhere, while it actually is not. Tencent’s super app Weixin (微信), also known as WeChat, runs two different systems for its Chinese and international version, as explained here.

When downloading either WeChat or Weixin, both being the same app, the app determines what features you can use and what information you can see based on the telephone number you register your account with.

In practice, this means that when you are a non-Chinese resident, you will be using the ‘international version,’ meaning you will have access to (international-specific) content that a user registered with a Chinese telephone number will not be able to see. The overseas version also does not have the same Wallet functions the Chinese version has.

 

Two apps, two systems

 

The difference between WeChat vs Weixin and TikTok vs Douyin, however, is not the same. Whereas the first is basically one app with two different modes, Douyin and TikTok are two completely separate entities.

Depending on the app store you use, you will either be able to download Douyin or TikTok. Users of Chinese app stores can only find Douyin, whereas users of the overseas Apple store or Google Play will only find TikTok available for download.

That the apps are actually separate systems becomes clear when running the same search words in both apps. As shown below, both apps provide different content for the same search words.

Left image: TikTok, Right image: Douyin.

For example, one of TikTok’s most popular channels of this moment is called ‘LisaandLena,’ a verified account by two German twins which has over 32 million fans. However, when you enter ‘LisaandLena’ in Douyin, the only result is an unverfied account which only has 102 fans and shows seven videos.

Results are the same the other way around. One of Douyin’s most popular accounts is that of Chinese actor Chen He (陈赫), who has over 52 million fans features 62 videos at this week. However, when running the same name search in TikTok, several unverified accounts come up, all showing some similar videos like those on Chen He’s Douyin account.

Top left picture: Douyin; top right and two bottom pictures: TikTok.

This suggests that, although Tiktok and Douyin have the same functions, layout, and logos, its users in China and overseas are kept completely separate and are not able to interact with eachother, something that a recent Chinese blog also discusses in detail.

 

The Rise of Douyin and TikTok

 

Ever since its launch in September 2016, Douyin has grown immensely popular. Just one year after its release, Douyin had more than 100 million users and became the second most downloaded app in the Chinese Apple store.

In September 2017, ByteDance took its app overseas; branding Douyin as TikTok for the international market, while keeping the app’s original name, Douyin, for its Chinese market.

Similar to Douyin, TikTok appeared to strike the right chord among internet users right away. In the first quarter of 2018 (note: within half a year after release), TikTok was the 6th most downloaded non-game app in the Apple app store and Google play store combined. In the Apple app store, it was even the most downloaded app. With its 45,8 downloads in the first quarter, TikTok beat apps such as Facebook, Youtube, or Instagram in the popularity rankings.

But that is not where TikTok’s short-video craze halted. In August 2018, TikTok merged with short video app Musical.ly (founded in 2014), that had over 100 million monthly active users at the time. In October last year, after receiving several investments, ByteDance Ltd. officially became the worlds most valuable private start-up, valued at 75 billion dollars.

By summer, ByteDance announced that TikTok, (meaning both apps combined) had more than 500 million monthly active users worldwide. About 300 million of these 500 million monthly active users are China’s domestic users.

 

Why does ByteDance separate Douyin and TikTok?

 

Why would Bytedance go through the effort to create two apps running on different systems? The answer partly lies in China’s strictly controlled online environment, where (social) media companies have to adhere to local policies on what is and what is not allowed to be published on their (user-generated) platforms.

In 2018, Bytedance was already criticized by authorities for hosting ‘inappropriate content’ on its news platform Jinri Toutiao. The joke app Neihan Duanzi, also run by Bytedance, was forced to shut down. Afterward, the company vowed to hire 4,000 additional censors, clearly not taking any risks in getting more warnings from authorities.

By separating Tiktok from Douyin, ByteDance can closely regulate the contents uploaded to Douyin, as they will be disseminated within China, while leaving overseas TikTok and its users relatively free to share whatever content they want to share (do note that the app also set up a team of 20 censors in Indonesia to monitor and ‘sanitize’ content from the platform there, after receiving complaints from Indonesian authorities).

 
New regulations for online video content
 

In light of tighter control on online video platforms, it seems that Bytedance’s monitoring team will have to work around the clock. On January 9, China’s Netcasting Services Association (中国网络视听节目服务协会), an association directly managed by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, issued new regulations that online short video platforms in China should adhere to. One of the new guidelines requires all online video service providers to carefully examine content before it is published.

Tech Sina reports that the new stipulations require that all online video content, from titles to comments and even the use of emoticons, has to be in accordance with regulations, which prohibit any content that is ‘vulgar,’ is offending to the Chinese political system, puts revolutionary leaders in a negative light, or undermines social stability in any way.

On Weibo, the newest regulations became a topic of discussion, with many netizens wondering how short video apps such as Douyin are going to comply, and how its users will be affected.

Although Douyin has not responded to how and if its platform will change in light of the latest regulations, we can expect that TikTok will not be affected – it will be marching to the beat of his own app.

By Gabi Verberg, with contributions by Manya Koetse

Interested to know more about Bytedance and TikTok? We recommend listening to this podcast by Techbuzz China.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Digital

Alipay Changes Name to Hanbao (But for Users, Nothing Will Change)

Alipay, oh, Alipay, wherefore art thou Hanbao now?

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First published .

What’s in a name? That which we call Alipay, by any other name would do the trick. But although the title has changed, nothing will change for Alipay users.

On January 8, news that Alibaba’s online payment platform ‘Alipay’ (Zhifubao 支付宝) changed its official name to Hanbao (瀚宝), became a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media. The hashtag ‘Zhifubao Company Changes Name’ (#支付宝公司更名#) received millions of views on Tuesday, reaching over 30 million by Tuesday night.

Zhifubao (支付宝) is the Chinese name for the country’s leading mobile and online payment app. The brand ‘Zhifubao’ literally means ‘payment treasure.’ Outside of China, Zhifubao is known by its English name ‘Alipay.’

Alipay is operated by the Ant Financial Services Group (蚂蚁金服), an affiliate company of Alibaba.

The name change was reportedly registered for the ‘Zhifubao (China) Information Technology Company’ (支付宝[中国]信息技术有限公司), that changed into ‘Hanbao (Shanghai) Information Technology Company’ (瀚宝[上海]信息技术有限公司), just as ‘Alipay China Holding Limited’ has been changed to ‘Hanbao China Holding Limited.’

The name change was registered on December 18th of 2018. The legal ownership of the company has also been changed from Ma Yun (Jack Ma) to Ye Yuqing (叶郁青), who is the Ant Financial Chairman. Yicai Global already reported about a change to Alipay’s legal entity in the summer of 2018.

In October of 2018, the Financial Times reported that Jack Ma had quietly relinquished his ownership of the legal entities at the heart of Alibaba, after announcing he would retire as Alibaba’s chairman.

The Alipay company responded to the commotion, saying that the name change is just an “administrative matter” that will not affect consumers using the app in any way.

On Weibo, however, not everyone is happy with the change. “I owe Jack Ma some money, why do I now need to return it to Ye Yuqing?” one commenter wonders. Many others say similar things, jokingly saying they now no longer owe Jack Ma money. The Alipay platform allows users to buy items with credit through their ‘Huabei’ loan tool.

“Is Jack Ma no longer looking after us?!”, others say. “Being legal representative and being a shareholder are two different things,” one Weibo user replies.

The fact that the ‘Hanbao’ name is pronounced the same way as ‘Hamburger’ (汉堡) in Mandarin is also a reason some people are mocking the name change. Some netizens wonder if ‘Alipay’ will now change into ‘Hanbaopay.’

In 2017, there was also some online commotion when it was announced that McDonald’s China would change its name from Maidanglao to Jin Gongmen (‘Golden Arches’). At the time, McDonald’s China also responded to its name change, saying that it was for “official certification” only.

Time has shown that indeed nothing changed; just as the McDonald’s hamburgers are still the same, Alipay’s official hamburger-sounding new name is unlikely to affect its payment convenience.

Read more: Insights into Sesame Credit & Top 5 Ways to Use a High Sesame Score

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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