Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Blogging up a Storm

One of the most popular Weibo is Lee Kai-fu, founding president of Google China
It is frustrating for people living on the mainland not to be able to get on websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

That's mainly because the Chinese government has no control over them (and their content) thus blocking them, and so the authorities encourage local programmers to come up with a Chinese version.

And so there are sites like Ren Ren (Facebook), Youku (YouTube) and very popular now is Weibo (微博), which is a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook.

As of mid 2012, there were 368 million registered users, or about 30 percent of the internet users in China. Weibo is described as a mini blog where people can post pictures, videos, music and of course blogs that 140 characters, but in Chinese this allows for many more things to say than in English.

To catch the mainland market, many companies, from restaurants to fashion brands, and even celebrities like basketball star Kobe Bryant and politicians like London Mayor Boris Johnson use it too.

If having tens of thousands of followers enhances their profile, or in the case of luxury brands entices people to buy, it's hard to say. But it must be interesting to know there are people in the Middle Kingdom reading what you write in cyberspace.

A friend of mine in Shanghai showed me her Weibo account, where like Twitter she can browse the hundreds of posts she receives everyday from the people or organizations she follows. Some of the posters are critical of the Chinese government and it's interesting to see if their particular post is deleted or even worse, their entire account shut down. She has heard of some Weibo users who have been "summoned to have tea", a euphemism for the authorities lecturing them for what they deem are politically incorrect posts.

And then there are people in the other extreme, like The Global Times' editor in chief Hu Xijin who is so pro government that some of his followers mock him for what they think is blind patriotism.

What is good about Weibo is that for the most part, the posts are pretty much left alone, ranging from the inane ones documenting someone's life to outright complaints about the government. As a result Weibo is a strong indicator of what people are thinking -- if you had a chance to read all 100 million posts a day.

Many Weibo users are so happy to have it available because if they didn't have this outlet, they wouldn't know what to do to express their frustrations or find more information about the outside world without having to climb over the Great Firewall.

So it makes me wonder if I too should set up a Weibo account and see what life is like on the other side?


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