China's Tencent launches English version of Twitter-like service

The move puts Tencent in closer competition with Twitter

Chinese Internet giant Tencent has launched an English language interface to its popular microblogging service, putting the company in closer competition with Twitter.

The service, called Tencent Weibo, works much like Twitter, allowing users to post comments limited to 140 characters. It was previously offered only in the Chinese language and has gone on to attract more than 233 million registered users.

Tencent could not be reached for immediate comment. But on Tuesday, the Tencent Weibo site offered users an English language interface.

Tencent is best known as the company behind China's largest instant messaging service QQ, which has more than 600 million registered accounts. The company also operates Chinese social networking sites and has a thriving online gaming business.

The Tencent Weibo user base is on par with Twitter, which reports having more than 200 million users. Both sites have also been affected by China's Internet censorship, but in different ways.

In 2009, Twitter was blocked by Chinese authorities in an information clampdown following an outbreak of ethnic violence in China's western Xinjiang region.

Following the blocking of Twitter, Chinese-developed social networking sites like Tencent Weibo took off, but have been required to censor posts when they concern politically sensitive topics. In January, the site blocked searches for the word "Egypt" in what was seen as an attempt by authorities to limit knowledge of the political unrest occurring in the Middle East at the time.

In spite of being blocked in China, Twitter has added Chinese language interfaces to the site. The service supports 17 different languages.

Along with Tencent, Chinese Internet company Sina also has plans to launch an English version of its own microblogging service. Sina Weibo has more than 140 million registered users.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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