FT Says Sina Weibo Becoming Less Vibrant, User Warns Of Castration

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  • on December 12th, 2011

The Financial Times writes in China’s love affair with blogging wanes that:

Many heavy users of Sina ($SINA) Weibo, the country’s leading Twitter substitute, told the Financial Times that they felt that the microblog had become less vibrant as new controls were introduced over the last few months.

“Sina is cracking down hard,” says Xie Wen, a prominent internet entrepreneur and prolific microblogger. He notes that posts which would have attracted large numbers of re-tweets and comments before the new restrictions are now barely making any impact, a complaint echoed by many other prominent microbloggers.

Sina has definitely changed how they direct users to trending topics, both by managing the “leaderboards” of popular topics and tweets and by less aggressively directing users to special topic pages to discuss breaking news items.

The FT then cites data in an attempt to support the anecdotes that fails. Alexa Chinese data are not credible. Also, you would expect a national disaster like the Wenzhou train accident to lead to a surge in usage, so tracking activity from the time of the train crash until today is unlikely to give you a conclusive data set, even if the underlying data were credible. From the FT:

Sina Weibo user activity peaked after two high-speed trains collided in eastern China in July, killing 40 people. ..

Since then, the government and party officials have appealed to Sina to monitor more closely what is said and make sure sensitive content is not spread too far, too fast.

Sina has complied, making changes to the site which some think have made it a less attractive news source and may have reduced the amount of time users spend on the microblog. The average time spent on Sina Weibo has dropped from 29 minutes a day in late July to around 20 minutes this month, according to statistics from Alexa, the internet information site.

Mr Xie warns that Sina Weibo is facing a watershed moment. “Weibo is being sustained by the five per cent most active users. What will happen if you castrate those?” he says. “If you lose the trust and sympathy of many active users, won’t they eventually leave?

I have noticed a decline in activity in my stream, have heard the same from Chinese friends on Weibo, but so far have not seen good data to support the anecdotes. Readers of this blog know I have written repeatedly over the last several months that the real risk from increased government regulation is not closure but reduced vibrancy. (The government does close individual Weibo accounts, as seen most recently in China shuts 200 microblogs for porn, vulgar content | Reuters.)

Since Sina has yet to monetize Weibo it is not clear how much of an impact a possible decline in activity might have on Weibo’s business prospects. Sina Weibo is still the most popular place on the Chinese Internet to engage in controversial discussions.

As for the risks of castration, emasculation has sometimes been a path to riches in China. More than a few eunuchs have amassed great power and huge fortunes.  A neutered Weibo could still be a successful business.

You can follow me @Niubi on Twitter@Bill on Stocktwits and @Billbishop on Sina Weibo.

The information in this blog post represents my own opinions and does not contain a recommendation for any particular security or investment. I or my affiliates may hold positions or other interests in securities mentioned in the Blog, please see my Disclaimer page for my full disclaimer.

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