Weibo -- often known as China’s Twitter -- is the country’s most popular blogging site.
As of June, it boasts over 430 million active users -- more than the entire population of the United States.
Throughout the years, the platform has gone through a number of redesigns. In its present form, Weibo is a little like Facebook’s news feed. It shows posts from friends and other people you follow. Users are allowed up to 2,000 characters per post -- in addition to one video, song, or multiple photos.
On paper, Weibo looks stronger than ever. But look around and you’ll see signs of competition everywhere. Tech leaders and movie A-listers are flocking to Wei Toutiao, a blogging service within the fast-rising news feed app Toutiao. Meanwhile social media stars and internet celebrities are amassing fans on Douyin, a short-form video app known as Tik Tok outside China.
Yet Weibo is no stranger to rivalry. The site was born in 2009 after the Chinese government blocked Twitter following deadly riots in Xinjiang. Multiple domestic blogging sites sprang up in the aftermath, including ones from big names like Tencent, NetEase and Sohu.
The competition was intense -- but within two years of its launch, Weibo reached 100 million users. By 2012, it was estimated that more than half of China’s internet users were on Weibo. And by 2014, Tencent had given up on its own microblogging service as Weibo went public on Nasdaq.
Just when everything seemed to be working for Weibo, Tencent released a product that took Chinese social media by storm: WeChat. Weibo tried to adapt by introducing a Pinterest-like pinboard function, a money-gifting feature, and a discussion forum. But the damage was done. In 2015, Weibo’s usage rate among internet users plunged to a historic low at 33%.
The number recovered a year later, thanks to the growing number of netizens from lower-tier cities and rural areas. Today Weibo is still one of the major news sources for those living inside China -- as well as those on the outside, looking for a window into the minds of people in China.
But that view is censored. Weibo often removes posts about topics that are deemed inappropriate by Chinese authorities. Mentions of the Tiananmen Square crackdown are regularly suppressed. And earlier this year, it shut down its trending topic list for a week after China’s internet watchdog accused it of failing to censor “vulgar and pornographic” content.