Popular Chinese microblog by Sina to launch English version

Sina's Chinese microblog service already has 140 million users

The operator of one of China's largest Twitter-like services is developing an English language version of its microblog platform.

The new English version of Sina's popular microblog is still under development, and the company has no timetable as to when it will launch, said Sina spokesman Liu Qi. "The service is meant for our users overseas. It's not being designed for one specific market," he said.

Sina's Chinese microblog service has already reached 140 million registered users. But about 10 percent of those users are from foreign countries, Liu added.

Launching an English version of Sina's microblog service, will allow the company to test the waters in both the English language community in China and in certain overseas markets, said Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting.

"Sina and all the major Chinese Internet companies are all interested to see if they can expand beyond the Chinese market," he said. "China is a great market, an enormous market. But it's just one piece of the global market."

Currently, the country has 457 million Web users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

Sina's microblog, which launched in August 2009, could soon rival the size of the U.S.-based Twitter service. By the end of this year, Sina's microblog service aims to surpass the 200 million mark, which is equivalent to the current number of registered users on Twitter.

But while Twitter has users across the world, the service has been blocked in China since 2009 following ethnic rioting that occurred in the country's Xinjiang region. Chinese authorities have blocked other social media and networking sites like Facebook and YouTube in an effort to clamp down on politically sensitive information.

Since Twitter was blocked in China, microblogs have grown to become one of the hottest Internet services in the country. Sina's rival Tencent operates a Chinese microblog with a 160 million registered users, only a year after it launched. The microblogs, however, are tightly regulated by Chinese government censors, which will block searches on certain terms that relate to political protests.

Sina has already launched an English language interface of its microblog through an iPhone app, which is also meant for overseas users. During a speech in April, Sina CEO Charles Chao said many of the microblog's foreign users come from Hong Kong, Taiwan and North America.

But Chao said the company was first focused on building its service in China. Any expansion abroad would be done through local partners, he added.

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