Chinese Twitter-like service passes 100 million users

Chinese company Sina says it will start experimenting with ways to make money from the microblog service

One of the biggest Twitter-like microblogs in China continues to see its popularity grow, with the number of registered users accounts surpassing the 100 million mark, according to site operator, Sina.

The service, which was launched in August 2009, has risen to the forefront of China's microblogging market. Official estimates say the percentage of Chinese Internet users who use microblogging services is at 13.8 percent, but the number is only expected to grow. There are 457 million Internet users in China, according to official statistics.

"We have successfully built Sina microblog Weibo into the largest and most influential social media platform in China," said Sina CEO Charles Chao in a statement on Wednesday.

Sina's online portal is the fourth most visited site in China and offers links to news and media. But this year, Sina plans on leveraging the popularity of its microblogging service by making it a centerpiece of the company's new growth strategy.

Sina will start experimenting with ways it can generate revenue from the microblogging service likely in the second half of this year, Chao said during a quarterly earnings conference call on Wednesday. But he added, "We are not going to make monetization a priority this year."

Sina also said it will release a new version of its microblog in the second quarter of this year.

Sina's microblog still falls behind Twitter, which has about 200 million registered accounts. Twitter, however, has been blocked in China following ethnic riots that occurred in the country back in 2009. That move helped open the way for Sina's microblogging service and others in the country to take off.

Sina's microblog, however, has also become a major target for China's Internet censorship. In the last several weeks, the microblog has blocked searches for terms such as "Egypt" and "Hillary Clinton".

Experts say the move is an effort by the Chinese government to stamp out discussion related to the anti-government protests that have occurred in the Middle East. A group of anonymous activists have also called on the Chinese people to stage a "Jasmine Revolution" to protest China's government. Searches for the word "Jasmine" have also been blocked.

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