A couple of weeks ago, Sina admitted its flagship product Weibo is threatened by WeChat. Then last week, I wrote about why the Weibo vs. WeChat battle is hugely important, and later in the week Chinese celebrity blogger Han Han even chimed in. But the latest sign that this is the year of the Weibo-WeChat battle (and that Weibo might be losing) comes from TechWeb, which is reporting that Sina Weibo is conducting internal testing on a new WeChat-inspired “Public Platform” feature.
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Like WeChat’s platform of the same name, the new Sina Weibo feature would allow users to send group messages, although right now it is apparently targeted only at large media outlets. The chief advantage of this platform, aside from the fact that it’s designed specifically for mobile, is that it would allow for the posting of messages longer than 140 characters. This means that news media, for example, could share full stories within the platform and their followers could read them directly within Sina’s app, without having to click a link and shift to a mobile browser. The same thing, of course, is also possible with WeChat.
Since Sina’s “Public Platform” is currently still in internal testing, it’s not clear what it will actually look like by the time it’s released — if it ever does get released. But one question raised by the folks over at TechWeb that’s worth pondering is whether media outlets will really be interested in engaging with a platform that doesn’t direct readers to their own websites. If users are reading full stories right in Sina’s app, that’s great for Sina, but it deprives those media outlets of website visitors, and thus advertising dollars. Aiming the Public Platform right at media outlets might make it a tough sell.
Whatever happens, it seems clear that both Weibo and WeChat are gearing up for a clash over users. While Sina tests a way to make its service more like WeChat, Tencent is rumored to be adding Tencent Weibo functionality into the WeChat app to make it a bit more like Sina Weibo. It’s not clear what either company will ultimately actually push out the door, but it’s quite clear that the space between Sina Weibo and Tencent’s WeChat is going to be a battleground as two of China’s biggest internet companies fight over the hearts and minds of China’s social and mobile web users.