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3/7/2011
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Foursquare Copycat Launched By China's Sina

WeiLingDi location-based service encourages residents to virtually follow celebrities, in addition to sharing their own whereabouts with friends.

Sina, China's largest Web portal, which already offers a Twitter-like service, on Sunday launched WeiLingDi, a location-based service for users in China.

The service is now available on iPhone and Android, and is expected to soon also become accessible via Nokia Symbian smartphones. It links to a dedicated Web site, said Sina's location-based service partner GyPSii, which develops geo-location and social networking applications. Both GyPSii and Sina support the Web site, and are expected to share income generated from the service, according to the Shanghai Daily.

Sina, which last week announced its fourth-quarter and 2010 annual financial results, operates a branded network of localized Web sites that target greater China and overseas Chinese nationals, the company said. Its properties include sina.com, for online news and content; Sina Mobile; Sina Community, for Web 2.0-based services and games; Sina.net, for search and enterprise services; and Sina e-commerce, for online shopping. Services include regionally focused online portals, search and directory, free and premium email, blogs, game community services, classified listings, and enterprise e-solutions, according to Sina.

Most of the corporation's earnings come from online advertising, mobile value-added services, and search and fee-based services, it said. In 2010, Sina's net revenue increased 12% year-over-year, reaching $110 million, the company said. Advertising revenue grew 30% compared with 2009 revenue, reaching $82.5 million, according to Sina. However, non-advertising revenue decreased 21%, dropping to $27.5 million, the business said.

Sina's new location-based service is integrated with the company's Twitter-like account, Weibo. The Foursquare-like service is expected to generate revenue, in part, through its "Star News" feature, which allows users to follow the microblogging site's more than 60,000 confirmed Chinese celebrities on suggestions about where to go -- an advertising and marketing tool.

WeiLingDi also offers the usual location service offerings, such as check-in on location; sharing location information with friends; viewing friends' activities; and seeing who is nearby, according to published reports.

"But interesting enough, Sina might be thinking of educating the users what check-in is about by encouraging the celebrities to share their whereabouts so users can follow," wrote Gang Lu, co-founder of OpenWeb.Asia Workgroup, in TechNode. "I know Sina is super good at this type of celebrity-effect strategy, but location is such a sensitive private information, I am not sure how many celebrities will do that [at] this time."

China, which has a history of censoring social media sites, recently has cracked down even more strongly against social networks in light of citizen uprisings in the Middle East and Africa. In February, the nation blocked business social media network LinkedIn, and the nation bars people from accessing Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Despite the red tape and censorship, China remains an attractive market for many entrepreneurs and established high-tech companies. The nation is home to more than 30 location-based service start-ups, according to ClickZAsia. Currently, 10-month-old Jiepang, which had about 230,000 users as of December, is capturing a lot of interest, as it rolled out its service in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong; inked a deal with Starbucks; and released its own API. There are rumors online that Foursquare is interested in acquiring Jiepang.

"It has the potential to become the truly leader, so if Foursquare wanted to come, buying Jiepang will make its life in China much easier. On the other hand, since the Chinese LBS market is at very early stage, I guess any Chinese LBS's valuation would not be that high. So if, only if the deal was done, it would be a cool one for Foursquare," wrote Lu on a Mobinode blog.

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