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7/28/2010
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Sina Opens Microblog Platform

Twitter-style rapid information sharing faces an uphill battle with China's government censors.

Sina, one of China's largest internet portals, formally launched its microblog service's open platform Wednesday. This will basically open up Sina's popular microblog service to developers in a similar way that Twitter has done through its application programming interface (API).

The new service already includes collaborative web tools and both desktop and mobile clients. The open platform will allow cooperation with other websites and applications, picture and video content sharing, and third-party plug-ins. Sina hopes that the opening up of its microblogging service to third-party developers will make the platform ubiquitous and overshadow similar offerings from Sohu, Tencent, and Netease.

Microblogging hasn't had an easy ride in China so far. The very concept of being able to share information so quickly and easily is not exactly something that the central government usually welcomes. Twitter, the first prevalent international microblogging website, has been blocked in China, along with Facebook, almost as soon as it became popular.

In the wake of Twitter disappearing from inside the Great Firewall, a plethora of Chinese Twitter clones began to appear almost overnight. Most of these have either been shut down or have voluntarily stopped functioning, leaving only those run by already powerful, and therefore already self-censoring, major portals such as Sina and Sohu.

Just this month most of the country's microblogging services were disrupted for a few days, many showing an "under maintenance" message and some of them changing their descriptions to a beta service. At the same time many controversial microblog accounts were closed down permanently.

Previously online content would be fairly easier to monitor and posts to web forums and blogs could be held in a moderation queue before published to the public. However microblogging is all about immediacy and the repeating or copying information posted by other users (retweeting in Twitter-speak).

If a subject becomes popular (i.e., starts to "trend") it can reach a critical mass where it must be almost impossible to censor. Therefore the future for microblogging in China is uncertain -- it remains to be seen if the large portals can make it work in a way that the net nannies in Beijing will approve of.

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