SHANGHAI - Ye Fangzhao, a 25-year-old freelance brochure editor for auto companies, abandoned his Twitter account a year ago to start using Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent. Now he's on the micro-blogging service 10 hours a day to connect with motoring experts and keep up with trends.
"I don't need to go to bookstores or buy magazines," says Ye, who lives in Xiamen, Fujian province. "It saves me time and money."
Sina Corp is targeting people such as Ye to win more attention from China's Internet users. Chief Executive Officer Charles Chao says he hopes Weibo's popularity will help Sina transform from a news portal to a social networking environment that lures outside developers.
Sina has 87 percent of the Chinese micro-blogging market by the time spent browsing, according to Eric Wen, an analyst at Mirae Asset Securities Co in Hong Kong. That helped triple its value to $5.8 billion on the Nasdaq Stock Market in New York by Tuesday. The Weibo service alone may be worth $2 billion, half of it from advertising potential, Wen said in a Jan 25 report.
"Weibo is the best opportunity for Sina to transform into an Internet platform," says Ma Yuan, a Beijing-based analyst with Bocom International Holdings Co, who has a buy rating on the company. "It is becoming the next killer application on the Internet and mobile phones."
"Our strategy is to build a platform that is open to everybody," says Chao. "We hope people will join and create content and applications for all to use."
Sina Weibo's posts are limited to 140 characters. Twitter was the model for Sina as it built on its popularity as a news portal and celebrity blogging site to expand into social networking, Chao says. Innovations added by Sina include allowing users to comment on other people's posts, as well as upload videos and pictures.
Sina started its micro-blogging service at least four months before its three main rival portals: Tencent Holdings Ltd, Sohu.com Inc and Netease.com Inc's163.
"In China, Weibo has become synonymous with Sina," says Sabrina Dong, an analyst at Analysis International, a research company in Beijing. "It has the strongest brand."
Sina hasn't released the number of its Weibo users since claiming 50 million by last October.